Pope Francis’ appeal to the younger generation

By Emily Antenucci

VATICAN CITY — A warm sun and clear blue skies made for the perfect atmosphere at the papal audience today, where Pope Francis spoke about this first week of Lent. Posters, flags, flowers, hats and more were waved in the air as Pope Francis made his way around St. Peter’s Square in his shiny, white popemobile.

Pope Francis greets the  cheering crowd as he rides around St. Peter's Square in the popemobile before his general audience this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Pope Francis greets the cheering crowd as he rides around St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile before his general audience this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Waiting for him to come my way, I couldn’t help remembering the papal audience with Pope Benedict XVI I attended just four years ago. Although I was only 16 at the time and my memory of that day is a bit faded, the first difference I noticed was the audience’s attitude and tone. The energy this morning was high — there was excitement in everyone’s eyes and there was a clear eagerness in the crowd to see and be blessed in person by the genuine, down-to-earth man that dons all white. While I remember young people were the audience four years ago, their number has now skyrocketed.

What is it exactly about Pope Francis that brings in the “young” population? As the one year anniversary of the pope’s election March 13 approaches, I thought I would stick around after the audience to ask a few people their opinion.

“Pope Francis is not only wonderful and down-to-earth,” Ruth Figura of Belleville, Ill., told me, but his energy “will bring young people back to the church while renewing the faith of others as well.”

I spoke to a few Fairfield University alumnae (Maya Abinakad, Ariana Michaloutsos, Ashley Doran, and Kelly Mahon) who were visiting for a few days. They told me, “Pope Francis is modernizing things. He is pulling in young people because he makes connections and is more likeable.”

Pope Francis waves the crowd this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Pope Francis waves to the crowd this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Almost everyone I spoke to use the words “loving,” “likeable” and “human” to describe Pope Francis. They see young people being influenced by Pope Francis and finding or restoring their faith in the church. On the other hand, those who are considered “older” or have been involved in the church for years expressed their respect for Pope Francis, particularly as a pope who can appeal to young people.

What do you think? Why is Pope Francis drawing more people to his audiences? If you could describe his first year as pope in one word, which word would you chose?

Emily Antenucci is an intern in the CNS Rome bureau while she attends Villanova University’s Rome program.

Fast facts for fasting and Lent

VATICAN CITY — Ash Wednesday today begins the penitential season of Lent.

Woman prays on Ash Wednesday at New York church

A woman praying on Ash Wednesday at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York in 2013. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the penitential season of Lent, a time of reflection, prayer, fasting and charity before Easter. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Today and Good Friday are the two days of the year when the church requires fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Fridays during Lent are also obligatory days of abstinence from meat.

Sometimes there is some confusion about what this entails so here’s what’s required in a nutshell:

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59.

When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but combined they should not equal a full meal. Catholics may, of course, eat less, but this is considered the minimum required.

The norms concerning abstinence from meat (on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays during Lent) are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

Exemptions are also made for those who are physically or mentally ill, diabetic or are pregnant or nursing.

– USCCB Liturgical Resources for Lent

The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, FOCUS, has created a number of great resources like this handy illustrated guide created by Jonathan Teixeira:

fasting guide

An illustrated guide created by Jonathan Teixeira for FOCUS. More here: http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/an-illustrated-guide-to.html

And  a “Lent Sanity” app that delivers daily reflections and reminders about meatless Fridays.

lentsanity

LentSanity is a Lenten campaign launched by FOCUS — Fellowship of Catholic University Students

When it comes to the penitential aspect of Lent and Ash Wednesday, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has a very good post here about the practice of penance. Here’s a snippet:

Most Catholics are familiar with the concept of giving up something for Lent, but what is not well understood is that these sacrifices, these acts of penance, have value because they teach virtue, not because the things sacrificed are bad.

Giving up sweets, coffee, alcohol or listening to music is good because it helps us grow in our ability to turn away from something we desire. Fasting is also important because it helps us focus the eyes of our heart on Jesus, just as he focused the eyes of his heart on the Father in the 40 days he spent fasting. Our heart, made for God, longs for deeper intimacy with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Fasting strengthens our ability to turn toward the good when we are faced with a temptation to sin.

– Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Be sure to check out the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ list of resources to help people “Give Up, Take Up and Lift Up!”  during Lent through fasting, alms-giving and prayer.

This site is meant to help people rediscover confession — something Pope Francis has urged people to do and “not lose even one more day. Go!”

PEOPLE SPREAD ASHES DURING ASH WEDNESDAY PRAYER SERVICE OUTSIDE WHITE HOUSE

People spreading ashes during a prayer service in front of the White House in Washington on Ash Wednesday in 2012. (CNS photo/Peter Lockley)

Lent is about real conversion and change, not just fulfilling obligations. So don’t forget to read Pope Francis’ Lenten message for inspiration on the importance of confronting the spiritual and material poverty in the world as well as his audience talk today about using Lent to launch a spiritual makeover and turn our lives around.

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