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Story Publication logo June 30, 2014

The Power of Pope Francis


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The Catholic Church stands at a crossroads—church attendance in Europe has decreased and the...

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Thousands braved inclement weather and gathered in the square outside the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere to await the arrival of the pope. Image by Molly K. Dutmers. Italy, 2014.

During a rare summer thunderstorm, a crowd of thousands gathered patiently outside the Basilica di Santa Maria in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome to see Pope Francis.

The pope was visiting the basilica on a recent Sunday evening to meet with the poor and to speak to the Community of Sant'Egidio. This organization of lay people, with more than 60,000 members, is dedicated to charity and spreading the word of God.

Torrential downpours caused problems with public transit, but that did not prevent the crowds from coming.

"The bad weather does not stop us," said Pier Paolo, who was in the audience at the basilica. "My daughter and I come from Monteleone Sabino. It's normally one hour by car away, but today it is very difficult to enter in the center of Rome, because of the bad weather."

After years of declining interest in Catholicism among young adults in Europe and the United States, Francis's popularity has seemed to light a new spark of interest in the millennial generation.

Sunday's crowd was filled with people of all ages, but most noticeable were the children and young adults.

Guiseppe Iazzetta , who is in his 20s, came to Rome for the weekend from Naples. "I'm here for the pope," Iazzetta said. "[It] will be a great experience even though it's cloudy and wet."

The excitement was palpable as the rain-drenched crowd awaited the pope's arrival. Residents of the apartments on the square watched and hung flags from their windows as choirs sang on a stage set up outside of the 1,000-year-old basilica.

The Argentine pope arrived in a simple black sedan, which stopped well outside the square. His visit to Trastevere just one day after telling a Spanish newspaper that he would no longer use the "popemobile," a vehicle that has been used to protect the pope since the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981. Francis called the vehicle "a sardine can" and said that it separates him from his people.

In a back corner of the audience, a young boy asked a woman if he could have her spot closer to the front. She asked why, and the boy responded: "I want to see Papa Francesco of course." The woman reluctantly agreed and the boy ended up just inches away from Pope Francis as he made his way through the crowd into the basilica.

The pontiff's desire to be close to his community was evident as he greeted the crowd outside the basilica, taking 55 minutes to make his way inside— blessing children, shaking hands, sipping a drink given to him by a crowd member and even stopping to take a selfie with two young adults in the crowd along the way.

Many in the the crowd seemed to be enamored of Francis's humble demeanor and charisma. "Did you see his smile?" Paolo, the man who drove from Monteleone Sabino, asked after the pope greeted his section of the crowd. "He reminds me of John Paul."

After the pope entered the basilica, many people started to leave the square, as a particularly ominous set of clouds rolled in. But many dedicated followers stayed put, waiting to watch the pope's speech.
Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio, introduced Francis, who then spoke on the issue of inclusivity of the elderly and younger generation in the church. He criticized Europe for becoming "tired" and for "discarding" their youth, who have had trouble finding jobs, and their elderly, saying many view them as "no longer useful."

The pope said that by helping the old and young, "you begin to renew society."


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