When we think about politics, usually the last thing we associate it with is religion. After all, the United States has been committed to separating church and state for well over 200 years. But when Pope Francis, the newly elected pope of the Catholic Church, entered the papacy last March, politics and the church suddenly found themselves uniting like never before.
Pope Francis made his first big splash on the world March 28, 2013 — Holy Thursday — when he visited Casal del Marmo, a detention facility in Rome. There he engaged in the washing of the feet, a tradition based on Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet just days before he was crucified. However, unlike previous popes, Pope Francis did not reserve this ritual to men only, and instead, included two women, one of whom was Muslim.
Now many of you might be thinking this must be complete nonsense, but in fact, having women included in a ritual like this is a big deal. However, you must remember that since the very first pope began his papacy in approximately 33 A.D., no woman has ever participated. Factor in a couple thousands of years and 265 popes later, and you have something pretty darn significant that has made traditionalists angry toward the church.
So, then, what does washing a woman’s feet have to do with politics and the world? The answer: It has to do with the people of the world. Unlike his predecessor, Pope Francis has dedicated his papacy to people of all colors, incomes, languages and even religions. He has been named “The People’s Pope” by multiple sources for his dedication and reform of the church, and TIME Magazine granted him the honor of Person of the Year for 2013.
Since his papal debut, Pope Francis’ voice, message and work have not stopped. In the past year, he has grown to be one of the most influential nonpolitical leaders and has been outspoken on political matters. He has continued to shock the world, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and he has received opposition from many Catholics, especially church leaders. At a press conference last year he said, “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” This statement alone propelled him to be named Person of the Year in 2013, but this time for The Advocate, an American-based LGBT magazine.
Besides his cry for support of gay rights, Pope Francis has also been vocal about the global financial market. In Evangelii Gaudium, the second major document he has published during his papacy, he calls for political leaders to create change. Here he writes, “A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. … I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.” He simply tells it how it is, and that’s what people have come to love about him. When he calls on political leaders to take action, he reveals to the world all of the corruption and inequality that many have chosen to ignore.
The next few years, as well as the duration of Pope Francis’ life, are critical, not just to the church, but to the world as well. He has proven himself to be a leader who has the power to create change in ways that presidents and prime ministers cannot; in people’s minds, as well as in their hearts. That, I believe, is what truly makes Pope Francis one of the greatest nonpolitical leaders who has immersed himself in the political sphere.
After all, isn’t that what makes the best leaders? Doing what is right in the face of hardship, and accepting the call to love, care and serve for others.