Catholic journalist offers insight into Pope Francis



Robert Mickens shared insights about the leader of the Catholic Church in his talk, “Speaking Frankly about Francis,” when First Friday of Greater Youngstown met Thursday at Antone’s Banquet Centre, 8578 Market St.

Mickens, editor-in-chief of Global Pulse, an online independent Catholic daily, has lived in Rome since 1986 when he studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Originally from Toledo, he worked 11 years at Vatican Radio and then another decade as correspondent for The Tablet of London.

Mickens said the most striking part of the pope’s presence is his how “he is at home in his own skin.” Because of that, he has answered sincerely when asked who he is ... “I‘m a sinner,” the pope has replied. He comes across as normal, not so papal.

That’s also evidenced by his choice of residence, not the Papal Apartments in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, but Suite 201 of Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the conclave is housed. As a cardinal in Argentina, he rode public transportation.

“These actions frustrate some who find him too unpredictable,” Mickens said. The pope takes his meals with Vatican staff and accepts bottles of his favorite energy drink from people in crowds. That interaction and “off-the-cuff” remarks in daily homilies are concerning to his security staff and Vatican hierarchy.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was ordained a Society of Jesuit priest in 1969 and elevated to cardinal in 2001. Mickens said Pope Francis’ first interview was with Jesuit media. “He was sending the message. ... ‘I am one of you,’” Mickens said. Being a Jesuit, Mickens said, means “he is a man of discernment.”

Mickens also pointed out Pope Francis is among priests who “accept Vatican II as a given and see that as what the Church is.” “Some see him as too progressive,” Mickens said.

Mickens suggested to the 160 in attendance that they read Pope Francis’ writings that include The Joy of the Gospel.

“It’s full of hope, and the document calls for change, renewal and reform concerning some of the oldest traditions,” Mickens said. “The important document relates how the Church should be courageous and not afraid to make mistakes.”

As progressive as Pope Francis appears, Mickens said the pope is Argentinian and was raised in Latin American culture that is patriarchal. Though he has launched a commission to study the role of women as deacons, women as priests isn’t a possibility.

Mickens said the pope was asked about women priests during a recent flight back to Italy from Sweden, where he attended an event for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Pope Francis refers to the Pope John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter that rebuked women as priests. “He deflects the question,” Mickens said.

Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical notes humans are responsible for detrimental treatment of the planet, Mickens said. “He emphasized we are stewards of God’s creation, and Earth is God’s gift to us.”

Mickens said what could be seen as a paradigm shift was the pope’s document on marriage and family life. “It addressed the reality of people’s lives not the ideal,” Mickens said.

Mickens continued the pope’s background as the son of immigrants gives him insight and empathy with the plight of refugees and immigrants worldwide. “Pope Francis believes bishops and priests must have the smell of the sheep, the flock, on them,” he said. “He points out the flock has the sense of where the greenest pastures are ...” and listening to grass-roots movements in the Church hasn’t been the norm.

The pope’s Year of Mercy focused on compassion to the poor and he promoted spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Mickens said the “pope of the people” will continue to use his resources to build relationships.

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