Pope Francis’ popularity with young Catholics clear, but previous popes’ styles offer lessons for the young, too

By Katherine Talalas
Catholic News Service    

         WASHINGTON (CNS) — The producers of Canada’s Catholic TV channel, Salt + Light, visited The Catholic University of America Feb. 27 with a special message for youth and young adult leaders. While Pope Francis has been extraordinarily popular among millennials, past popes also have lessons to share — and their example can help win young souls for Christ.

                Basilian Father Thomas M. Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light, and producers Sebastian Gomes and Cheridan Sanders spoke to a group of students on “The Significance of Messages and Contributions of John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis to Youth/Young Adult Ministry.”

                Each speaker shared four lessons that youth and young adult ministers could take from each pope.               

Blessed John XXIII (CNS photo)

Blessed John XXIII (CNS photo)

                Gomes spoke about Blessed John XXIII, whom many compare to Pope Francis. Born into poverty, he had great compassion for the poor. Most of all, “he sought to be like the saints and care for souls,” Gomes said.

                Four lessons from Blessed John XXIII:

                1. He showed young Catholics the value of slowly progressing in holiness. Blessed John XXIII’s diary, “Journey of a Soul,” documents his daily struggles with pride, gossip, and failure in his prayer life. Said Gomes, “a lot of people are searching, and we give them this idea that Christianity is a light-bulb moment.” Blessed John reminds us that faith is a journey, and that individuals can gradually grow into holiness.

                2. He was devoted to dialogue and reconciliation with people of diverse backgrounds and faiths. While serving as an apostolic delegate representing the church in several non-Catholic countries, Blessed John XXIII encountered beliefs and traditions that most Catholics had never heard of. He was eager to engage people of all faiths, and was the first pope to address an encyclical to “all people of goodwill,” rather than specifically to Catholics.

                3. Blessed John XXIII had a great love of history. “History is a gift, but also a reference book,” said Gomes. The pope was passionate about history and was determined to learn from the past. As Catholics, we have tremendous history to draw from, which can guide us and strengthen our witness to others.

                4. His example helps us to move beyond political categories. Labels such as “liberal” or “conservative” are limiting for Catholic believers, and can even be destructive. Blessed John XXIII did not fit into either category. “It is really only the great conservatives who can make progressive decisions,” Gomes noted.               

Blessed John Paul II (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Blessed John Paul II (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Father Rosica discussed the legacy of Blessed John Paul II, whom he had known personally through his work for World Youth Day. This pope’s famous love and sympathy for young people made him a champion for youth ministers.

                Four lessons from Blessed John Paul II:

                1. He focused on the centrality of Jesus Christ. According to Father Rosica, his papacy could be summed up with a simple statement: “God is rich in mercy.” The most important goal of youth and young adult ministry is to guide young people to Christ, and His mercy is available to all.

                2. He reaffirmed the meaning of orthodoxy. “Orthodoxy must go hand in hand with orthopraxy,” explained Father Rosica. “Christianity requires corresponding behavior for beliefs.” Youth and young adult ministers must support Catholics in living their faith — even when obeying Catholic doctrine distinguishes them from their peers.

                3. He provided an authentic example of individual holiness. Blessed John Paul II is universally remembered as a deeply holy man. He believed that “holiness has many faces from all corners of the world,” says Father Rosica, and deeply respected holiness in others.

                4. He was an excellent example of forgiveness. Famously, he forgave his assassin. Many Catholics remember how Blessed John Paul II visited with and extended compassion to the man who tried to kill him.

                Cheridan Sanders spoke about retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose intelligence and reason make him a powerful guide for young people seeking the truth. Sanders unpacked the generalization that Pope Benedict was “the conservative pope,” or “the pope of aesthetics.” “This does not really explain him,” Sanders said.

                Four lessons from Pope Benedict:               

Retired Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Reuters)

Retired Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Reuters)

               1. He had a deep and profound sense of awe. Though we live in a cynical age, gratitude and wonder open our eyes to God. “Pope Benedict loved created order, the environment, all human life, and beauty,” said Sanders. “Awe puts us in the right relationship with God, which makes us receptive to his revelations.”

                2. He was a student of life. “Even though Benedict was one of the most brilliant people in the world, he knew he didn’t have all the answers,” Sanders said. Pope Benedict respected reason, including the reason of those with whom he disagreed. Most of all, he was a curious person who enjoyed learning from others.

                3. He was gentle in correction. While Pope Benedict “was engaging and loved the world, he also wanted what was best for it,” Sanders said. He was unafraid to correct errors in thinking, albeit gently. 

           4. He had great humility. Sanders reminded youth ministers that Pope Benedict’s goodbye address had a profound lesson for them: “If you unable to do something anymore, the Holy Spirit will find someone who can.” While not always successful, Pope Benedict had a strong spirit of reconciliation, as shown by his outreach to critics of the church, including the Society of St. Pius X.      

On April 27, the feast of Divine Mercy, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II in ceremonies in Rome.

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3 Responses to Pope Francis’ popularity with young Catholics clear, but previous popes’ styles offer lessons for the young, too

  1. cg says:

    My grown children are “Millennials.” They do not like nor trust POPE FRANCIS. Probably because of his choice of Soho Advocate Archbishop Nichols as a new Cardinal and his non-crucifix Pectoral Cross. And, because of his muddying the waters about controversial issues. Your article is your opinion, of Pope Francis’ popularity. Nothing could be further from the TRUTH. Pope Francis is no saint. He doesn’t walk the talk. And, young adults are off put on his liberal teachings, which even contradict Christ’s Teaching and His Church. Not buying your assessment.

  2. cg says:

    Reblogged this on Catholic Glasses and commented:
    I do not agree, with this woman’s statements that Mellinials like Pope Francis. Mellinials love Truth. A “cracked foundation” does not uphold The Church.

  3. Folks, he is the Pope. Deal with it.

    As for other Popes with appeal to youth, what about His Holiness Pius X?

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