Papal popularity

The pontiff inspires throughout the city of Kingston

St. Mary’s Cathedral at Clergy and Johnson Streets host numerous parishioners every Sunday and throughout the week.
St. Mary’s Cathedral at Clergy and Johnson Streets host numerous parishioners every Sunday and throughout the week.

Even from across the ocean, Pope Francis is making a splash in Kingston’s Catholic community.

He’s bringing faith closer to its grassroots and is inspiring some Queen’s youth to spread the word.

Stephanie Dresch, president of the Queens’ Newman House Catholic Chaplaincy, said she’s been deeply affected by the words of the Pope, inspiring her to become a missionary after she graduates.

Dresch has applied for a job with Catholic Christian Outreach Canada, a university student movement dedicated to university evangelization, to work on one of 12 university campuses across the country.

“This would be my full-time job,” she said.

Dresch said she would invite students into the faith to learn more. No matter what happens with this job prospect though, she hopes to be a full-time missionary in some capacity.

She said she had ideas about becoming a missionary before Pope Francis was elected last March, but knew this was the right choice after seeing what he’s done.

She’s inspired by his actions and words and is determined to bring faith to youthful students.

“I think one of the things that Pope Francis has really stressed in the hearts and the minds of young Catholics is being a missionary disciple,” she said.

A disciple is someone who is learning, and a missionary is one who is sent to spread the word.

“To be a missionary disciple, it is going and acting and sharing Christ’s message while also learning and being formed within it,” she said.

Dresch said activism in faith and humility are two important messages, through speech and actions, from the Pope.

“His example is what we are really bringing back onto our campus,” she said.

Newman House hosts mass and organizes events, allowing students to learn more about their faith. Dresch encourages members to invite their friends or classmates to learn and spread the word.

“Hearing that I could be a missionary disciple, but also that I already am with the work that I do on campus and within my Newman House community,” she said, “and knowing that that’s what Pope Francis is thinking … that lit the fire in my heart to be a missionary disciple.”

“It just really impacted how I act on a day to day basis,” she said. “It’s allowed me an opportunity to be an example and follow in Pope Francis’ words.”

Mark Dumbrique, the liturgical coordinator at Newman House, is an avid member of the Catholic community in Kingston who feels the Pope has had a positive effect on his faith.

In addition to Queen’s multifaith chaplain, the University also has a Catholic chaplain, Father Raymond de Souza, who also acts as chaplain for the Queen’s football team.

Dumbrique and the Newman House executive work closely under Father Raymond de Souza in preparing events, leading hour-long group discussions and being part of the face of the Catholic chaplaincy.

An interfaith soccer tournament, held at the end of last semester by University Chaplain Kate Johnson, is an example of the interfaith acceptance that Pope Francis projects.

“You hear it said a lot that he’s somehow shaken up the church,” Dumbrique said. “Fundamentally, it’s still the same thing, but I think what’s important is that he’s more of a pastor than an administrator.”

This means he projects a closer connection to everyday people instead of hiding behind a desk. Dumbrique believes that the Pope’s connection to the people is one of the most important attributes for young people to see and connect with.

“He’s most at home when he’s out with the people,” he said. “Which I think today is what young people need.”

Robert Dennis, the University’s papal expert, reflects on the tremendous impact that Pope Francis has had on the wider world as he brings the church back to its roots.

“With Pope Francis a lot of it has to do with the gestures that he makes. He is really anti-elitism, he does all of these different things that really connects with people,” he said. “It gets back to the root of Christianity in the sense of poverty and the sense of community.”

John Paul II, who was Pope from 1978-2005, was charismatic and connected with the youth. After him, Pope Benedict took to his pontificate, but as an academic he lacked the ability to connect with the Catholic community on a relatable basis.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, lives in a hotel room as opposed to the traditional papal palace and is known to sneak out at night to minister to people on the streets.

“I think a lot of people associate the institution of the Catholic Church with great riches, great power and prestige,” he said. “[Pope Francis] has done the exact opposite.”

Over a short period of time, he’s become a pop culture icon, Dennis added.

Time Magazine calls him the “people’s pope”, while Vanity Fair named him man of the year, placing him alongside other top world leaders and pop icons. In a few week’s time, Pope Francis will grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine — a first for the church.

“The phrase in the media is that ‘he’s a rockstar’ and he almost literally is a rockstar on that cover,” Dennis said.

He’s also appeared on the cover of The Advocate, an LGBT-based magazine, after he famously spoke: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?"

“For people who have a particular view of the church, this statement was surprising,” Dennis said. “This welcomed a message of openness ... and I think it really puts the right foot of Catholicism forward.”

The first non-European Pope in 1,200 years, the leader even has a Twitter account, creating a refreshing face of the Roman Catholic Church. He tweets almost every day around 6 a.m. with inspirational ideas or quotes.

“The Vatican, even though it’s an ancient institution, has really particularly from the 1960s forward tried to adapt to the new technologies in the world,” Dennis said.

The @Pontifex Twitter account, which was started during Pope Benedict’s time, is used significantly more under Pope Francis. It’s not the Pope’s themselves tweeting though — they actually have an American college student in charge of the account. The messages are approved by the Pope’s communications office or Francis himself in some special cases.

“It’s been an innovative way for the Pope to reach people,” he said.

His number of Twitter followers is 3.63 million as of yesterday afternoon — a number that has skyrocketed since his election.

This idea of bringing Catholicism into the modern world isn’t entirely new though. The Vatican II was an initiative undertaken in 1962-65 to assess the place of the Roman Catholic Church in the modern world, looking to adapt itself to contemporary times.

“I think certainly there was a sense of a need for renewal within the church,” Dennis said. “[Pope Francis] has certainly provided that.”

Despite all this attention and fame, Pope Francis doesn’t want extravagant power, and encourages Catholic officials on lower levels to follow his example and live a simple life.

Dennis said despite having a forward-thinking Pope, we shouldn’t expect too many radical logistical changes in the church — gay marriage or female ordination is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

For now, the Pope is rallying Catholics to go back to their roots of faith, and in doing so, has inspired people across the globe.

“People’s imaginations have been captured by this Pope and what he’s doing,” Dennis said. “People want this from the church, they want the simplicity of life, they want to get back to something that’s really fundamental.”

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