A Pope Is Coming. Expect Surprises

With rosary in hand, Pope John Paul II scans the crowd as his helicopter circles Colorado's Cherry Creek State Park before the closing Mass for World Youth Day Aug. 15, 1993. "Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life," the pope told the hundreds of thousands of people gathered there. (CNS file photo by W. H. Keeler) (Feb. 11, 2005)

John Paul approaches Denverr.

Remember Pope John Paul II’s first World Youth Day in America, in Denver? Church officials were told a cold, hostile America would give him a tepid welcome.

When he got he was overwhelmed with the good will of the huge crowds.

Remember John Paul’s last World Youth Day in Toronto?

“John Paul, we have a confession to make,” went one Toronto Sun editorial afterwards. “We underestimated you.”

They expected him to be rejected as an out-of-touch old cleric by forward-thinking Canadians

Pope John Paul II climbs the steps to an airplane as he leaves Toronto July 29 after the eighth international World Youth Day. Rejuvenated from his contact with youths from around the world, he left for Guatemala City to canonize Blessed Pedro de San Jose Betancur. (CNS photo from Reuters) (July 29, 2002) See WYD-DEPART July 29, 2002.

Pope John Paul II leaves Toronto.

“The irony is that what critics see as the Pope’s weakness is his greatest strength,” it said. “Because John Paul, throughout his papacy, has been true to himself, he towers above politicians when it comes to public respect.”

Toronto Sun columnist Connie Woodcock wrote: “All right. I give up. … I have a lot of problems with the Catholic Church, all the usual ones like abortion, contraception, divorce … but the hordes at World Youth Day knocked me out. It is a joy to see the crowds of youthful believers out there singing songs on the subway and behaving angelically.”

Or how about the last U.S. papal visit — Pope Benedict in 2008?

They expected him to be a cold aloof pontiff dodging the elephant in the room: the abuse scandal.

YONKERS, NY - APRIL 19:  Pope Benedict XVI greets the audience after arriving for a Young Catholics Youth Rally held at Saint Joseph's Seminary April 19, 2008 in Yonkers, New York. The pope will make a historic visit to the former site of the World Trade Center and celebrate Mass in Yankee Stadium before departing New York April 20.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Pope Benedict meets young Catholics in New York.

Instead, on the airplane coming to the United States, he spoke of his “deep shame,” about abuse and said, “we will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry.” To the bishops he spoke of the Church’s “enormous pain,” and said the scandal was “sometimes very badly handled.” To the congregation at Nationals Park, he said “No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse.”

But perhaps his most stinging remark was when he turned the issue against our culture: “What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?”

Not only did he not avoid the abuse topic, he brought it up again and again — and even met with abuse victims in the Boston area.

Another surprise in 2008: The dour “smaller, persecuted church” guy Americans expected didn’t show up.

Instead, Benedict declared “a great jubilee of the Church in America.” He told the bishops to prepare for “the new springtime of the faith.” He spoke of “the New Evangelization” and prayed for “a new Pentecost” for America’s church. And he summed it all up with his “Thy Kingdom Come!” message at Yankee Stadium.

So what will we get from Pope Francis?

I am willing to bet we are going to get surprised.

Francis has never been the guy the American media has scripted him to be.

For instance, in August 2014, he said bluntly: “About the problem of Communion to those persons in a second union, that the divorced might participate in Communion, there is no problem. When they are in a second union, they can’t.”

In January, he spoke out against the “ideological colonization” represented by new gender theory and decried artificial contraception, losing fans who then left the Church or merely shook their fists at it.

The media is already writing the same stories they always write.

USA Today: Pope Francis Faces a Fractured U.S. Church.

NY Times: It will be a security and transportation nightmare.

Huffington Post: Pope Francis will find a Church hemorrhaging members.

Expect totally different stories in a week’s time: Secular journalists surprised by truth from a man who doesn’t stick to the script we expect to him.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department and edits The Gregorian, a Catholic identity speech digest. He was previously editor of the National Catholic Register for 10 years and with his wife, April, of Faith & Family magazine for five. A frequent contributor to Catholic publications, he began his career as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area and as press secretary for U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer. He lives in Atchison with his wife and those of his nine children still at home. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Benedictine College or the Gregorian Institute.

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