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Experts Discuss Pope Francis, His Impact on Public Life

February 4, 2014 – Pope Francis’ style of personal engagement with the poor should be a model for social policy in the United States and throughout the world, said a panelist during a discussion of the pontiff at Georgetown yesterday.

“It’s not enough to sort of feel bad, and it's not enough to advocate policy solutions,” said John Allen, Boston Globe associate editor, during the event at historic Gaston Hall. “You [have] got to get out there where people are actually suffering and engage personally with them. … He’s talking about a personal option about the poor that changes the way you personally and I personally live our lives and that will eventually flow into policy solutions.”

A Mirror to the World

Allen joined Ross Douthat, New York Times op-ed columnist, and Kerry Robinson, executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management for a panel discussion on “The Pope, Politics and Policy.”

John Carr, Washington correspondent for America Magazine and director of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, moderated the event.

Allen explained that Pope Francis’ first year as head of the Catholic Church has been one of reflection, contemplation and action to reform the priorities of the Vatican.

“By definition, when Christianity is hitting on all cylinders what it does is it lifts up a mirror to the world, … and it asks the tough question, ‘look at what you see, is this really what God wants?’ ” said Allen, who also has worked as senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. “If you take it seriously, that is a subversive question, that is a challenge to status quos of all kind and I think [Pope] Francis takes it seriously.”

Reshaping Priorities

The Monday evening panel is the third one sponsored by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life to focus on the new pope  – “The Francis Factor” in October and “The Pope and the Poor: Challenges of Pope Francis and Catholic Social Thought for American Poverty” in December.

Robinson said Pope Francis is placing emphasis on serving the poor and less fortunate in order to set an example for church and world leaders to follow.

“I think Pope Francis is a troublemaker for those who hope nothing substantive changes either in our church, in our world, in our priorities, in our policies or even in our very own hearts,” said Robinson. “… I think he’s a leader who is fondly grounded in prayer, knows who he is and whose he is, is radically free and centered, exudes mercy, commands that we have an authentic encounter with the poor and calls for positive reform in the Catholic Church.”