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Pope Francis changed the world with a simple question
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By Andrea Peyser
September 21, 2015

Pope Francis changed the world with a simple question

He’s been called a rock star, a man of the people and an awesome dude. But Pope Francis just likes being called a regular guy.

“To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me,’’ he told an Italian newspaper last year. “The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person.’’

He said on an Argentinian radio show last week: “I have felt used by people who presented themselves as my friends and whom I hadn’t seen more than once or twice in my life. They have used that to their own benefit. But it’s an experience we all go through.’’

Laughing? Crying? Tranquil sleep? False friends?

The pope isn’t so different from you and me. (Except, for an insomniac like me, the sleeping part.)

The 78-year-old Roman Catholic leader traveled on Saturday to Havana, where he quickly called on the Communist nation to “open itself to the world,” while lauding its restoration of diplomatic ties with the United States.

He is set to land on Tuesday in Washington, DC, where he’s to become the first pope ever to address a joint session of Congress. Then he’s to travel to New York City and Philadelphia. As he prepares to celebrate Mass on Friday at Madison Square Garden, it’s time to reflect on what this humble, nonjudgmental, unpretentious man means to me, a Jew.

He gives me faith.

No, I’m not converting to Catholicism. But I appreciate the manner in which this leader of a religion that claims more than 1.2 billion followers reaches out to people with his common touch.

He lives simply in a guest house in the Vatican, rejecting the Apostolic Palace, and likes to tool around in a 1984 Renault.

In these days of worldwide terrorism and moral relativism, Pope Francis has drawn a spiritual road map.

Catholics have long suffered from papal fatigue, battered by priest sex scandals and a religious leadership that for too long looked the other way. The faithful have been traumatized by the Hitler Youth past of the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI.

Catholic leaders have lost followers as they’ve rejected homosexuality, abhorred the use of contraception and condemned women who had abortions. These things haven’t changed, exactly.

But with five words, Pope Francis turned around the perception of a church that was out of touch.

“Who am I to judge?”

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters in 2013.

He extended a compassionate hand to priests who harbor sexual orientations contrary to Catholic dogma. “Who am I to judge?’’ The words led the Argentinian-born former nightclub bouncer to be named Time’s 2013 Person of the Year, and to receive the same honor from The Advocate, a gay-themed magazine.

He must have loved that.

Just as extraordinarily, the pope declared this month that priests may absolve women who have had abortions if they seek forgiveness in the coming Holy Year of Mercy. “I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision,” he wrote. “I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

This is huge.

I only wish the pope would steer clear of leftist politics. In a breathtakingly anti-capitalist encyclical in June, he blasted the “myth of progress’’ that brought the world air conditioning, electric lights, shopping malls — and, he insisted, climate change. He failed to mention that the progress he blamed for global warming has greatly helped the plight of the poor.

The pope is at his greatest when he gives hands-on help to the weakest among us. He announced this month that two families of refugees were to be given shelter in the Vatican, and he called on parishes, convents and monasteries to do the same. (Compare that with Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee, who wondered aloud of Syrian refugees, “Are they really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV?”)

I am thrilled that the pope is to grace this country and this city with his presence. May future popes follow his lead.

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