What Can We Learn from Pope Francis’ Visit?

Pope Francis gives a thumbs up during his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/Ettore Ferrari, EPA)
Pope Francis gives a thumbs up during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Ettore Ferrari, EPA)
Many young Catholics are eagerly awaiting Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States. During the last few months, religious and political pundits have speculated that the pope will largely focus on issues such as the environment and income inequality and make a family-values case for a just economy and fair immigration policies. If they’re correct, what can we do to prepare to receive his lessons and put them into action?

Lesson #1: How Taking Care of the Planet Protects One Another

In his encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be to You), Pope Francis pronounced the Church’s grave concern for our planet, and how the Earth’s health affects us all. Pope Francis adds that humankind’s abuse of the planet and the resulting climate crisis disproportionately affect the poor. This, he said, is a “social debt towards the poor … because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.” While he doesn’t condemn cultivating and utilizing Earth’s gifts, he forces us to recognize the suffering we inflict upon our brothers and sisters across the globe from our extreme consumption and abuse of those gifts.

Through this analysis, we can begin to understand the importance of creation care in a new light. We can start to understand how our consumption affects not only the planet, but also all those who inhabit it, especially the marginalized. Working for environmental justice is now as much about reducing our negative impact on the poor as it is about caring for the earth.

Lesson #2: Imagine a Values-Based Economy
Pope Francis’ love for humanity is especially apparent in his declarations relating to economic inequality. When the pope rebukes capitalism, he challenges a system that creates an immoral disparity between the rich and the poor.

Earlier this summer, the pope made headlines over comments in South America highlighting the destructive effects of capitalism and greed:

“An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”

By addressing the idols that have blinded us from working toward the common good, we can better address the circumstances that hinder the poor from living well. It will be important for American Catholics to take a hard look inward and address this systemic problem.

Lesson #3: How to Put Our Families First
While Pope Francis explains that “…[work] gives [us] the ability to maintain ourselves, our family, to contribute to the growth of our nation,” in America, our workplace standards aren’t designed with family values in mind. Working people deserve an economy and a workplace that make it possible to nourish strong, loving families. Without a living wage, adequate leave time, and an economy that makes it possible for everyone to fully participate, we’re failing families in America. Earlier this year, Pope Francis told a crowd in the Philippines that poverty and materialism are threats to “good and strong families.” We too can do better to address poverty and materialism here at home.

Many also expect Pope Francis to echo the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ calls on Congress to overhaul our broken immigration system and create a humane and compassionate process that allows families in our country to stay together.

As the pope addresses our nation’s leaders in Washington, we must reflect on our national policies and work to make sure they allow families to thrive.

Celebrating Pope Francis’ Visit
It’s an important time to amplify the pope’s calls to honor human dignity for all of God’s children. Pope Francis holds an unabashed regard for human dignity and an unabashed disdain for anything that hinders our ability to thrive. As Pontifex lifts up social issues like the climate crisis, economic inequality, and barriers to strong families, he is intentionally reminding Catholics (and non-Catholics) about how those issues relate to real live human beings, our siblings on Earth.

As communities and parishes come together to host watch parties and roundtable discussions about his teachings, I invite you to join and learn more and take special care to advocate for a world where all of us may live well as God intended.

Click here for details about ways to join Interfaith Worker Justice in events related to the pope’s visit, including a special roundtable discussion on social justice issues and an interfaith prayer service in Washington, D.C.

Use resources from In This Together and the Ignatian Solidarity Network to join in celebrating Pope Francis’ message of justice and love during his inaugural visit to the United States.