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Pope is both popular and polarizing, speaker says

Pope Francis has proven to be both a celebrated and controversial figure. The Pontiff was named Time Magazine’s 2013 Person and Year, and his image is even featured on the current issue Rolling Stone.

But not all Catholics have embraced the Pope’s ideals and the direction in which he is taking the Church.

In a Cultural Life Program given last Thursday in Daniel Chapel, Father Jeff Kirby, the Vocational Vicar for the Diocese of Charleston, attempted to answer some of the many questions surrounding the new Pope and what they mean for the Catholic Church in a time when modernity and faith often collide.

The presentation, titled “Is the Pope Catholic?” was sponsored by Catholic Campus Ministry.

For Kirby, beginning to understand Francis’ impact on the Church requires looking at modern perceptions of Catholicism, both the good and the bad.

“When many people think of the Church, disconnected, archaic, unenlightened, and irrelevant are some of the words that come to mind,” he said. “The question is, how can we present the Church so that those not of the faith can understand how it is relevant?”

According to Kirby, reversing this perception of the Church has been central to Francis’ first few months in the papacy.

“Francis has made Christianity attractive; he has given it a human face,” said Kirby, referring to the Pope’s appearance on the covers of Time and Rolling Stone and presence on social networks such as Twitter and Instagram. “He’s approachable and he wants people to approach him.”

However, Kirby points out, Francis’ popularity has not come without its drawbacks, and many of his plans for the papacy, such as reforming the Vatican bureaucracy, have garnered criticism from officials in the Church, with some going so far as calling him a heretic.

“There is a lot of concern about what he’s doing because he’s changing so much so fast,” added Kirby. “There are going to be a lot of growing pains.”

Yet, for Kirby, in spite of the Pope’s radical overhaul of the Vatican, his example remains true to what Christianity has taught for thousands of years.

“Being a Christian is first and foremost about love and compassion,” he said. “And now Francis calls us to live what we believe.”

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