If you’re at all like me, you recognized the beauty and significance of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States two weeks ago.
It was incredible. Crowds in the hundreds of thousands, rich and poor, religious and non-religious—indeed, Americans of all sorts—flocked to catch a glimpse of “the People’s Pope,” as he has been called by various media outlets.
I found it difficult, however, for those of us watching at home on TV, online and on social media to sit through coverage of the pontiff’s trip. National media outlets, predictably, dissected every aspect of it to no end, like surgeons at the operating table.
These frustrations are nothing new, surely. In the past year alone, we’ve seen essentially every newsworthy event treated the same way. From grave happenings like the ongoing refugee crisis and civil war in Syria to trivial matters like celebrity red carpet outfits, the cameras, blogs and tweets have worked around the clock.
And yet, what struck me differently about coverage of the papal visit was its constant injection of politics. One might say there has been an attempt at ‘political ownership’ of the pope, particularly by those placed in the media spotlight.
The divide runs something like this: democrats herald Francis as a rogue pontiff, one who supports their platform for universal health care, climate change controls, fair wages and tolerance of those on the fringes of society. Republicans reject these points, claiming the pope’s positions on abortion and gay marriage, grounded in Catholic tradition, bolster their agenda.
It went beyond the news cycles. Have you seen the social media profiles of 2016 presidential candidates lately? On Facebook, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Gov. Mike Huckabee each posted statuses including Francis quotes that fit their side of the aisle.
Everyone’s missing the point.
Such attention grabs completely ignore one of the key reasons Pope Francis traveled to the western hemisphere in the first place: to bring Christ’s love to people and remind us of the unity required to sustain the world we live in.
In his address to a joint session of Congress on Sep. 24, Francis drew attention to harm caused by division, especially in addressing the world’s problems.
“The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization that would divide it into these two camps [good and evil],” he said.
“We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”
Francis seeks to draw us closer together, not further apart. When we develop rigid political lines that cannot be crossed, we invite a divisive attitude that prevents us from accomplishing meaningful change.
What we need is not for political parties to own the pope, but to embrace the basic humanity and good of one another. Not division, but reconciliation and cooperation.
This is the breath of fresh air that many observers of our democracy know we’ve been waiting for. Recall the tears on the faces of Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden as the pope delivered his address. It was a heart-tugging moment, seeing two of the most notable Catholic persons in our nation in complete awe of the pope’s presence and prose.
Our politics—our culture at large—often overlooks such genuine emotion. We need more of it. We need more and more to recognize the humanity in one another, and to confront our problems as one society, one people, under God.