The Pope is the guardian of dogma and of morals; he is the custodian of the principles that make families sound, nations great, souls holy; he is the counsellor of princes and of peoples; he is the head under whom no one feels tyrannized because he represents God Himself; he is the supreme father who unites in himself all that may exist that is loving, tender, divine. ~Pope Pius X
Back in 2013 when Pope Francis was elected I was working in the bookstore of a Christian Reformed college. I was the token Catholic. One of the first things I did when I moved into my office was hang up my diploma from the local Catholic college I attended along with an icon of the Blessed Mother. I became the “office expert” on everything papal when Pope Benedict retired and was totally live-streaming the Sistine Chapel’s chimney in my office when Francis was elected.
There were several college students who worked at the bookstore, and the summer after the conclave I was talking with one student who was studying abroad in Europe when Francis was elected. She was as Christian Reformed as they come, but I remember her definitively saying that Pope Francis was her pope too. He was her pope too.
In a way that sums up Francis’ papacy. He is a father for the world, not just faithful Catholics. If anything, he can be quite harsh to faithful Catholics. Like the Person he represents, Francis seems very preoccupied with doing whatever it takes to bring the one lost sheep, those on the margins, back home—even if that means that the ninety-nine righteous sheep he leaves behind grumble and complain.
Since his election I’ve admired Pope Francis. His gestures of humility, simplicity, and his special attention to the poor have inspired and challenged me. During the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis published a book titled The Name of God is Mercy. I read that book three times during the course of a year, and it was then that I went from liking the pope to loving him. This book spoke directly to my heart. As a faithful Catholic, the Holy Father challenged my tendency to judge others for their sins rather than see myself as a sinner. As a lay minister at a Catholic parish (I have moved on from the bookstore and put my Theology degree to use), he modeled what a ministry of mercy should look like. I fell in love with Pope Francis, so much so that my wife and I named our fourth child after him.