Pope and change

In both the classroom and the chapel, the professors and priests at Holy Cross challenged us to think about how we could help change the social, political, and economic structures that contributed to the persistent poverty and inequality that so many of us witnessed just beyond our college gates.

This was the focus of the very first conversation I had with Barack Obama. During my interview for the speechwriting job in his Senate office, we discussed what motivated each of us to pursue careers in public service. I talked about Holy Cross, and the time I spent in Worcester helping welfare recipients navigate job training and social services. He talked about community organizing with Catholic churches on the South Side of Chicago, a formative religious and political experience that led him, as he would later say, “to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active palpable agent in the world—as a source of hope.”

For years, this view of faith as a force for social justice took a backseat to culture wars that were often waged in the name of Christianity. But Francis—the former Jesuit, janitor, and one-time bouncer—is the first Bishop of Rome who hails from a developing nation; the one who has most clearly seen the world through the eyes of the poor, powerless, and dispossessed.