With Pope Francis’ visit to the United States still lingering in the minds of Americans, it seems that he has evoked the attitudes of acceptance, understanding and tolerance in many throughout the world. What can be said is that he is an appealing faith figure to Millennials, the generation who seems to be lacking in the religiosity department.
In a previous #MillennialMonday post, Millennials have looked at the Religion and Spirituality domain very differently. Many lack the desire to go to a religious service every week, nor are they willing to accept doctrines and rules blindly. But that doesn’t mean that Millennials have pushed faith off their radar. They just seek to fulfill their faith through nontraditional means, maybe more so that the traditional Church service.
Enter Pope Francis who has encouraged Millennials that the Catholic Church is a wonderful faith institution to be a part of and that there is more than just the traditional Mass to express one’s faith. Despite his likeability and message of acceptance that has been appealing to many, there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming recommitment to the Church by those who have long left it in their past. However, there for the first time in decades the retention rates of Catholics have stabilized and not decreased.
So what is it about Pope Francis that Millennials love and how is he encouraging them to express and live their faith and what does it all mean for the future of the Catholic Church?
1.) The Millennial Motto Matches the Pope’s Message
The Millennial Generation has had a strong voice in seeking equality and inclusion of all people. Pope Francis has shown acceptance to members of the LGBT community, as well as acknowledging the importance of women in religious vocations. It’s a match made in heaven – pun intended! While it is unclear whether dramatic changes will be seen in the tenure of Pope Francis, experts believe that he is building the foundation for acceptance on an action level, not just a spoken one.
2.) Pope Francis is a Social Media Guru
He has over seven million Twitter followers and counting (That’s not counting the accounts in 8 other languages)! But it isn’t the quantity of his followership on social media that matters, but the message being sent through those channels, and the willingness to embrace this new communication style. Yes, Pope Benedict may have been the first to join Twitter, but Francis has been the one to capitalize on the social media forum.
During his visit to the United States, a campaign was rolled out via social media to encourage Millennials to become more connected to the Catholic Church. It worked. Between Pope emojis and Snapchat filters, the Pope’s visit encompassed the language of Millennials. He has understood the way Millennials communicate – mainly through social media – and has sought to bring his message to them and not hoping they will hear him through traditional methods.
3.) Pope Francis and Millennials agree – Church isn’t the top priority
I may get in trouble with saying this, but Church isn’t the top priority for Millennials. With that said, I know how a Church service is that structure that can help define and give foundation to our spirituality. I do think that Sunday Mass is important and I think the struggle with Mass is more so making it more in style with Millennials, but that’s a different issue for a different time.
But Pope Francis understands that expressing your faith comes every day of the week and every moment throughout each of those days. It doesn’t fall solely on one hour a week. Millennials are volunteering more than their parents and are more conscientious about giving back to their community. That action is what Pope Francis made clear as soon as he took the role as the Catholic Church’s leader.
This action of social justice and human dignity is one Millennials respond with, seeing as they prefer to do hands-on volunteer work as their main philanthropic endeavor. Most Millennials can’t afford financial donations, but tend to integrate volunteerism into their schedule, seeking out working at a soup kitchen or helping at a fundraiser in order to help those in need. This walking the walk is a more lively way of practicing one’s faith that is complimentary to Millennial attitudes and the Pope’s vision.
4.) Francis isn’t afraid to be transparent and apologetic while being relatable and living simply.
Last year, Pope Francis made headlines taking a German bishop to task for his indulgent home renovations totaling $40 million. A few months ago, he made the statement, If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? The words showed acceptance for members of the LGBT community and began to thaw the cold relationship between the Church and the gay community. As most recent as his trip to the United States, he apologized to victims of sexual abuse at the hand of some of the Church’s clergy members.
He doesn’t skirt around the issues but addresses them head on. He recognizes the shame of the Church but makes it clear that greed and abuse are not the way of the church. He shows his humanity in his willingness to apologize for wrongdoing while also opening his arms to those who normally would be excluded. He really is a Christ figure walking in our world today.
5.) Pope Francis doesn’t forget about humor and happiness
Pope Francis has managed to do something past popes have not: integrate humor and happiness into his message. Millennials are a group who are searching for happiness and fulfillment as their main motivating factor and the Pope highlights humor as a catalyst for those elements. Francis states that laughing helps him feel closer to God, something I relate to but feel is not embraced and highlighted enough by religious leaders. I am in the midst of reading Between Heaven and Mirth by James Martin, S.J., and the message that faith can be fun and joyful is often overlooked. With Francis trying to integrate a more hopeful message and doing so through humoristic means, I think he will be even more appealing to Millennials.
Francis is different, yet what we would expect in a Pope. He has a fresh perspective that is more in keeping with the way of Christ. He welcomes the outcast, recognizes the actions of living faith, he lives simply and showcases his humanity. He welcomes and includes while paving the way for change in the Catholic Church. He has met Millennials where they are and made his message one that will catch their attention and resonate with them. Pope Francis has been a catalyst for revitalization within the Catholic Church and one that will awaken the Millennial spirit!
What is it about Pope Francis that appeals to you? How has he helped live your faith differently or better? Sound off in the comments section below!!