Photo by Edgar Jimenez, Creative Commons

What is Pope Francis’ first possible miracle? That both sides of the political spectrum are talking about the poor, at least according to John Carr, director for the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

Last night, the director moderated a discussion on how Pope Francis’ actions and ideas are reshaping public discussion in the U.S. and around the world between a panel that included Boston Globe associate editor John Allen,  New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, and National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management director Kerry Robinson.

Franciscan Mission Service program coordinator Natalie Helfrick and communications coordinator Bridget Higginbotham attended the event and appreciated learning more about the continuing impact of the “Francis Factor,” or how the pope and Catholic Social Teaching are impacting public life.

The staff also enjoyed seeing friends of Franciscan Mission Service: members of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, Pax Christi International, DC Catholic Young Adults, and the Community of Sant’Egidio.

During the discussion, John Allen’s perspectives on Pope Francis’ stance on the preferential option for the poor really resonated with our staff. He said that the pope is asking us to make a personal option for the poor, to have a “concrete solidarity” beyond policy change. When the pope says “preferential option for the poor,” he means a personal engagement with the poor in front of you.

“The panelists made crystal clear what Pope Francis means when he calls us to encounter the poor. Together, they honed in on the fact that the ‘preferential option for the poor’ has to start with personal conversion. And this conversion has to be more than a feeling: it has to be translated into actions,” Natalie said.

“As someone living in a city like Washington, D.C., not a single day goes by when I’m not given the opportunity to practice that and wrestle with what it means,” she said. “A true preferential option for the poor will call me, for example, to engage the dozens of homeless men and women I pass every day on the way to the metro, and real relationships with the poor around me must affect how, where, and with whom I spend my time and money. It should cost me something. All pursuits of structural justice need to flow from that relationship and encounter with real persons, not from an abstract ideology or agenda.”

Some tweets from “The Pope, Politics, and Policy: The Continuing Impact of ‘Francis Factor’ and Catholic Social Thought on Public Life”

In addition to poverty, another theme that emerged during the evening was the pope’s broad reach and role as a world leader. Kerry Robinson pointed out that most of the world is interested in the issues that he is drawing attention to: peace, poverty, potable water – just to name a few.

“Kerry’s comments and story about her colleagues of different faith traditions joining in Pope Francis’ prayer for peace in Syria reminded me of my non-Catholics who are excited about Pope Francis and what they see are ‘his causes,'” said Bridget. “Even if these are causes for which the Church has always stood, I’m glad that they are receiving more attention, which will hopefully lead to action. I am excited to see the long-term impact of the ‘Francis Factor’ on our world.”

For more soundbites and commentary from the evening’s panel, check out the event’s #FrancisFactor Twitter feed.

Because our headquarters are in Washington, D.C., Franciscan Mission Service staff is blessed to be able to attend such events, and we look forward to witnessing and participating in further discussions on issues such as poverty, peace, faith, and service.