John Allen discusses the ‘Francis effect’ at seventh annual UDMC

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

November 11, 2013

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John Allen, CNN Vatican analyst and Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, discusses the “Francis effect” at a Saturday session at this year’s UDMC.

Since his election in March, Pope Francis has earned approval ratings most politicians and celebrities would relish.

“There is something about this man and his message that set off this popular enthusiasm that is remarkable,” said CNN Vatican analyst John Allen during a discussion of “the Francis effect” at the 2013 University of Dallas Ministry Conference offered Oct. 24-26 in the Irving Convention Center. The Saturday program also included a keynote talk about Our Lady of Guadalupe by a leading expert on the subject, Monsignor Eduardo Chavez.

Catholic lay ministers from Fort Worth and Dallas packed both sessions during the seventh annual faith-formation gathering.

Allen, an award-winning journalist, shared his thoughts about the new pope and his impact on what’s become, “this tsunami in the life of the Church.” Two recent polls taken in the U.S. found 96 percent of American Catholics approve of the job Pope Francis is doing.

“To get that many Americans to agree on anything is staggering,” Allen pointed out, humorously adding, “if we ever get around to beatifying him this could be his first miracle.”

The international media has also embraced the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Instead of waiting for the one-year anniversary of his papacy, many news organizations have already produced a cover story or documentary about Pope Francis. The Italian edition of Vanity Fair named him “Man of the Year” in June — six months ahead of the customary December announcement.

Since becoming the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis’ modest lifestyle and his ability to understand the struggles of ordinary people have set a tone for leadership in the Church that has struck a chord with the public.

“It’s recalibrating how leaders in the Church are supposed to live,” Allen explained. “When people see the symbols of office in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis doesn’t want them to think of power and privilege but service to the Gospel.”

The author of seven books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs, the speaker also addressed the most controversial aspect of the young papacy.

“I think this is a pope whose political priorities are not going to be the culture wars,” said the seasoned correspondent who had the opportunity, along with other reporters, to spend two unscripted hours with Pope Francis onboard the jet they shared as the entourage traveled back to Rome from Rio de Janeiro.

During the inflight press conference, the Holy Father addressed questions about the role of women in the Church, divorced Catholics, and the gay lobby. “If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them?” he told reporters.

The pope’s words were widely misconstrued, Allen told the audience, noting the Holy Father clearly stated, on at least two recent occasions, that he stands by the Church’s position on abortion, contraception, and gay marriage.

“But he believes the world has heard those positions, and it’s not necessary to repeat them all the time,” the speaker continued. “He wants to lift up other elements of Catholic social teaching such as solidarity with the poor and promotion of peace.”

During his first eight months in the chair of Peter, Pope Francis has exhibited an exuberance, personality, and knack for political savvy not seen in his 15 years as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Members of the press, who reported on Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, considered him to be stiff, gray, and boring.

“So what we’re seeing (in the pontiff) is new and begs the question, where did it come from?” Allen queried rhetorically.

The “Francis effect” may have a mystical dimension, he explained. Pope Francis told an Italian journalist that as he waited to step onto the papal balcony after his election, he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he veered into the nearby Pauline Chapel.

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Monsignor Eduardo Chavez delivers a keynote address Saturday morning about the role of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the New Evangelization. Msgr. Chavez gave the same address in Spanish that afternoon.

“Something happened in that moment of prayer. It filled him with a kind of tranquility and serenity,” Allen said, recounting the story.

The charisma and populist appeal we’re seeing in the once shy cardinal can’t be explained by his biography or track record in Buenos Aires.

“I think it has something to do with what we call ‘grace moments,’” he added.

In another address presented during the ministry conference, Monsignor Eduardo Chavez talked about the mysticism surrounding Our Lady of Guadalupe and her role bringing Christianity to the native people of Mexico. St. Juan Diego, an indigenous farmer, saw apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill between Dec. 9 and Dec. 12, 1531. Msgr. Chavez served as postulator in the cause for his sainthood.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe perfectly inculturated the Gospel,” he said during the Saturday morning keynote session. “In other words, more than culture, language, or history, she put Jesus Christ, her son, in your heart. Our Lady of Guadalupe is not just the patroness of Mexico but all the people in the world.”

Msgr. Chavez went on to explain how Spain colonized Mexico, but their attempts to convert the native population were futile. Warfare and distrust existed between the Aztecs and their conquerors. Native religious practices, like the human sacrifice of children, continued, and the Spanish Catholics began turning against the missionaries.

“The bishop wrote to the King of Spain saying, ‘if God does not provide a solution of his own, this land will be totally lost’” the monsignor explained. “God heard the bishop and intervened by sending his mother, Holy Mary of Guadalupe.”

The miracle of Guadalupe was the answer to that plea, and the Virgin Mary would leave her miraculous image on Juan Diego’s cloak. As a result of that image, millions of Aztecs accepted the Catholic faith and were baptized.

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This text is from Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, The Church in America, issued several years before he canonized St. Juan Diego.

During his presentation, Msgr. Chavez stressed:

  • The most important part of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is her pregnant womb. Giving the world Jesus is the center of her message, and her apparition is an encounter with God.
  • When the Lady asked Juan Diego to get approval from the bishop to build a temple in her honor, she recognizes the authority of the Church.
  • Pope John Paul II said the “melting pot” of the Americas is found in the “mestiza” face of the Virgin of Tepeyac. Although doctors advised him to canonize Juan Diego in Vatican City, a frail Holy Father insisted on traveling to Mexico in 2002 to kiss the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe saying, “With that image, everything started for me.”

An expert on the miracle of Guadalupe, Msgr. Chavez said it’s no mistake Our Lady chose to appear to an ordinary person.

“The Mother of God needs you,” he told the hushed audience of lay people. “You are the messenger of Our Lady, the Mother of God.”

The monsignor ended his talks with the words spoken by Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Do not be afraid.  Do I not have the honor and joy of being your mother? Are you not under my protection and my shelter? Am I not the fountain of joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle? In the closing of my arms? Do you need something else?

“These the most perfect inculturated words because it is the Gospel.  It’s Jesus Christ in your heart.”

Christina Mendez, principal of St. Peter School, praised the ministry conference for its wide variety of sessions. A first-time presenter at the conference, she spoke with participants about cultivating joy in a Catholic school and incorporating saint feast days into the classroom.

“This is a great opportunity to learn new things and [you] can bring that back to your school or parish,” she said.

See Also

Cardinal Rodríguez discusses role of G8 at UDMC press conference

Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, addressed attendees at the seventh annual University of Dallas Ministry Conference (UDMC) Friday, Oct. 25 at the Irving Convention Center. Cardinal Rodríguez, whom Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell introduced as “one of the most sought-after speakers in the Catholic world today,” spoke about “The state of the Church and the importance of the New Evangelization.” One of Pope Francis’ closest advisers, the cardinal emphasized the Church as the People of God, saying, “The function of the Church hierarchy is the function of Jesus Christ; the hierarchy is a ministry of service.”

UDMC13-John-Allen-BUTTON.jpgSince his election in March, Pope Francis has earned approval ratings most politicians and celebrities would relish. “There is something about this man and his message that set off this popular enthusiasm that is remarkable,” said CNN Vatican analyst John Allen during a discussion of “the Francis effect” at the 2013 University of Dallas Ministry Conference offered Oct. 24-26 in the Irving Convention Center. The Saturday program also included a keynote talk about Our Lady of Guadalupe by a leading expert on the subject, Monsignor Eduardo Chavez.

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