This week’s meeting between Pope Francis and President Obama holds great promise in a time of turmoil, though not necessarily in the ways some may hope.
In anticipation of the meeting, everyone seems to want a piece of the pope. The head of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good has posted a petition on the White House’s “We the People” website that makes a religious case for action on climate change.
Activists pushing for immigration reform are seeking an audience with Pope Francis the day before he meets with Obama. The president has said he wants to discuss his own agenda of tackling poverty and income inequality, the focus of the pope’s ministry.
In the U.S., both left and right have projected onto the pope the image they wish to see — that is, a reflection of themselves — rather than the man he truly is. My own observations are gleaned not from a crystal ball but from many conversations with people close to the Vatican and from each man’s actions. From these we may infer the verities each holds dear.
We know our president well enough at this point, but our view of the pope has been only a partial image conveyed by commentaries and cameras. He is the most unusual pope who organizes a fast and leads a peace vigil opposing U.S. military action in Syria.
And he is the one who asks, “Who am I to judge?” on the subject of gays.
He is beloved because he makes us feel good, pointing us in the direction of our better angels. But he is also human and we should not infer that because he is benevolent, he is also benign. This would be to misunderstand and underestimate him. In his daily homilies, Pope Francis talks frequently about the struggle between good and evil. He quotes from Robert Hugh Benson’s 1907 novel “Lord of the World,” a story of the anti-Christ.