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Catholic Social Thought Panel Explores Pope Francis’ Visit

September 29, 2015 – Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States “makes it that much tougher for us to look the other way at those who are living on the outskirts of hope,” national columnist and PBS NewsHou​r​ commentator Mark Shields said yesterday at Georgetown.

The longtime political analyst was among panelists commenting on the Pope’s Sept. 22-27 trip to America and its impact on politics, culture and the Catholic Church.

Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life sponsored the event. 

If there’s one quality, one characteristic, we need in public life… in private life …it is that elusive commodity of authenticity,” Shields said. “[Pope Francis] is an authentic, authentic man in addition to a saintly man and a good man.”

Serving One Another

Also on the panel were Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee and MSNBC commentator; Cokie Roberts, contributor for NPR and political commentator for ABC News; Kim Daniels, former spokesperson for the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Alexia Kelley, president and CEO of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities.

Initiative director John Carr, who moderated the event, asked Steele if Pope Francis, who invoked Martin Luther King Jr. in his address to Congress, has had an effect on the racial divisions that persist in this country.

“[Pope Francis] completes part of that dream for us when he talks about the spirit of who we are and what we are called to do – serve one another, serve something greater than ourselves,” Steele said. “And that in essence was what King was talking about – getting us over the stepping stones and the walls and the hurdles of racism and prejudice to be of service to each other. “

Golden Rule?

The “Francis Factor Revisited” event last night took place two years after the original “Francis Factor” dialogue that analyzed Pope Francis’ first six months as leader of the Catholic Church and launched the initiative at Georgetown.

When asked about whether Pope Francis will have any lasting political effect, Roberts noted to laughter that Congress “cheered for the golden rule” during the pope’s address.

John Carr speaks as part of a panel onstage in Gaston Hall.“I was pleased to see that they were pro-golden rule,” Roberts said. “But the very next day of course John Boehner resigns and they announce this at the Values Voter Summit and everyone stands up and cheers – so how golden rule-ish is that? Not.

“It’s hard for me to think that it’s going to have a lasting political effect except in the sense that I think that faithful Catholics and people who are thinking about what the pope had to say are going to continue to do that and try to act on it.” 

Truth and Beauty

When asked about the Holy Father’s influence on American bishops, Daniels said “Pope Francis showed us, all of us, the Bishops the laity, all of us, he showed us how it’s done. How do you bring the goodness and truth and beauty of our faith to a world that’s hungry for it, but which so often has its ears closed to it.”

She also said that the American Bishops have been “second to none in their advocacy for and ground work for the poor and the immigrant.”

“It is so encouraging to have Pope Francis hold that up in the American political conversation because there are so many times when those groups don’t have a voice, and bishops have provided that voice to them for many years,” she said.

Values in Action

Kelley was optimistic about how young people have reacted to the pope’s visit.  

Mark Shields speaks as part of a panel onstage in Gaston Hall.“Francis’ message isn’t limited to a generation,” she said. “He’s inspiring people across generations.”

She added that the pope brought causes and institutions together by dining with the homeless at Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.

“Francis put values in action – he made them real for young people," she explained.

Remarkable Tribute

Shields commended Georgetown and the initiative for creating a venue for thought leaders to talk about serious issues.

“The president of the United States was a panelist here this spring on the discussion of poverty in the country,” noted Shields about the initiative event with Obama this past May. “It was just a remarkable tribute to the initiative and to the university and what John has started here that the president of the United States came and participated on a panel.”

The longtime commentator also noted that in political life people often ask if they are better off than they were four years earlier.

“ I think the pope’s question is are we better off,” Shields said. “Are the strong among us more just?  Are the weak among us more secure? – because the inescapable truth is … that each of us have been warmed by fires we did not build, each of us have drunk from wells we did not dig. We could do no less for all of those who follow us and all of those who are with us.”