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.

7 Responses

  1. I love Pope Francis and feel thankful that God has blessed us with yet another outstanding Pope. But I must honestly say that I do not understand the increase save for better press in the mainstream media. Everyone I know that has read B16 feels the same way. His heart was humble, his intellect was impressive, his tone was loving. And of course still is even as his strength wanes. I don’t know if I will ever love a Pope in a personal way as I love Benedict.

  2. would love it if the pope could visit my country(Papua New Guinea) the last pope to do so was pope john 2.

  3. I too do not appreciate the constant comparison to Pope Benedict (as i can only assume the comparison is made). I love Pope Benedict. He was the chosen one when he was Pope. He was a prophetic choice and we all saw that during the time of the death of our beloved JP 2 and the lead up to PB16’s election. Let mainstream media do their obscene comparisons. Not here. Not you.

  4. As a Cradle Catholic who remembers Pope Pius XII, I love this Pope. A true gift from God to the world. He exudes love and gives us HOPE. I believe he will cleanse the Church and help heal its children that suffered because of the men who should never have been called,” Father.”

  5. We have been blessed in the modern era with Popes who have been humble men willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and each use their gifts as God wanted them to do. Pope Francis has a gift, much like John Paul II, of being a good “crowd guy”. He is a pastor, and a wonderful homilist. Pope Benedict is a wonderful example of doing not his own will, but God’s. He laid down the leadership role, and took up one of prayer warrior. Each man has his appeal. Humans will compare, it is what we do, because we are driven by choices. And we respond to the “crowd guy”. Jesus could obviously work the crowd. The message that both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have spread is the same, right now people are responding to a difference in style of delivery.

    Thank you Father for both men who are your humble servants and bless them as they do your will.

  6. I think he’s wonderful, I was impressed when he was chosen and used the media to bless all his sheep in the world even the TV watchers. He has a contagious smile.

  7. “Pope Francis is modernizing things.”
    I would certainly hope not, as chasing after trends and fads comes at the cost of losing centuries-old traditions that are part of who we are as Catholics and are the heritage passed down to us by our forefathers in the faith and entrusted to our stewardship for future generations. And I also hear in this quote the misguided hope that Pope Francis will do away with those hard teachings of the Church … as if those teachings were not given to us by our omniscient and immutable God, whose Holy Spirit guides His Church even today and preserves it always in matters of faith and morals.

    “He is pulling in young people …”
    It remains to be seen whether “The pope is a cool dude” translates into “I will attend Sunday Mass and live my life according to the ethical and moral teachings of the Church.” If it does, that’s great. If it doesn’t, well, salvation comes not from thinking the pope is “cool cat.”

    “… because he … is more likeable.”
    Ah, yet another slap at Pope Emeritus Benedict, who I found to not only have a brilliant mind and a humble soul, but also a shy demeanor that was very endearing. As a 32-year-old, there have been three popes in my lifetime. The pope emeritus remains the one with whom I feel the most personal connection. Is it possible for those who respond better to Pope Francis’ style and approach to express that appreciation without denigrating Pope Benedict every single time?

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