The fact that Time magazine chose Pope Francis from among some other very, very compelling possibilities as Person of the Year reveals the worldwide acclaim the man is achieving and the acceptance and the fascination.
I was at the airport in Buffalo recently when a gentleman was passing quickly to his flight and he said "Father, if the pope keeps living the way he is, I'm going to get back to Church."
Pope Francis really has attracted the attention of, not only Catholic people, but of the world.
Those recent images of the pope and man covered with tumors are all very real for him. That's the way he has always been. When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aries there were the same reports. That scene of Pope Francis embracing that man with the disfigurement reminded me so much of Jesus welcoming the lepers and St. Francis of Assisi embracing the leper. It is at the core of our Christian faith.
For Pope Francis, it is not intentional, it is just the way he is. He puts flesh and blood on that biblical teaching for all to see.
Sometimes people have wanted to interpret some of his ways of putting things out there in a way that it looks like he may be changing the established doctrine of the Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A couple of days after that famous comment on the jet (after World Youth Day) talking about people with same-sex inclination he said, "Who am I to judge?" He certainly didn't mean who am I to judge the morality of actions. He meant who am I to judge people and their innermost consciences.
You saw the spin that happened worldwide that maybe the pope changed the Church's teaching of marriage. A pope can't do that. There are established teachings rooted in God's revelation of Scripture, but many of them, in natural law, just the way human beings are made.
I think the difference with Pope Francis is that he is saying to us that as important as these issues are, whether it's the life of the unborn, or the life of the elderly in an age that in some places promote euthanasia, concern for immigrants, the nature of marriage as the union between man and woman, he is trying to say that as important as these hot button issues are, let's not forget they are not the whole picture. The center of it all for a Christian is the person of Jesus Christ and His Good News.
The most recent document published by the Holy Father is "Evangelium Gaudium," Latin for the "Joy of the Gospel." That is where he is coming from. He is telling us let's not forget all these issues we still have to work wit,h, because he is entirely opposed to abortion. He said at the heart of it all is our friendship with Jesus Christ and the joy that gives us.
After he made that comment about who am I to judge gay people, a couple days later in an address to Catholic gynecologists at the Vatican, he told them it was their job to fight abortion. He said abortion is a symptom of a throw-away culture. That is not a pope who is soft on abortion.
In another interview I was asked whether Pope Francis is the kind of man whose pastoral, friendly approach to things would make it difficult for me to be strident. That was the word the reporter used on the Church's teaching. I said I hoped never to be strident. I hope to be strong.
When a priest is named a bishop he has to choose a motto for his episcopacy which goes on his coat of arms. I chose from Ephesians 4 the words of St. Paul, "Live the truth in love." We have to live the truth, we have to proclaim the truth but in a way that is loving, welcoming and accepting.
Pope Francis' words and style have made me think more about living my own motto more faithfully.
Comments of Bishop Richard J. Malone during an interview with WBBZ-TV.