The Most Rev. Robert E. Guglielmone, bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, said Pope Francis’ visit to the United States is a wonderful opportunity both for the people of the United States, especially Catholics, and for the Pope himself.
“He has never been to the United States, so I think this can be a wonderful opportunity for him to know the people of the United States,” Guglielmone said in a phone call Monday afternoon.
“He’s going to challenge us to look at the dignity of the human person from natural conception to death,” he said. “How do we respect the dignity of the human person? How do we reach out to the poor? How do we recognize that we are a worldwide family of brothers and sisters? He’s going to challenge us to use our resources.”
“I think it means different things to different Catholics, said Father David Whitman of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Spartanburg, who has been a priest for 10 years and arrived in Spartanburg on Aug. 1. “Many Catholics will be energized by the Holy Father’s arrival. Others are going to be challenged by what he says. I kind of suspect the vast majority of people are going to find it kind of both — uplifting spiritually and challenging at the same time. Good spirituality is supposed to challenge us.”
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Dr. Byron McCane, Albert C. Outler professor of religion at Wofford College, said, “the excitement about (Pope Francis’) visit is one of the many pieces of evidence that religion is not disappearing. Religion is doing just fine and it’s something that all thoughtful people need to be aware of and understand.”
Pope Francis’ ability to relate to a wide audience may be why there is so much attention related to his visit to the United States.
“There is a lot of change going on out there in the world of religion, but the one thing that we think we can see is that religion is becoming more personable, more configured to being sensitive to the individual,” McCane said.
“Pope Francis understands that very deeply and has the ability through the way that he acts when he is in public view,” he said. “He seems to demonstrate his concern and care for the individual. He can reach down and touch gently and with dignity people most of us would want to walk by. He is open to the poor, to the sick, to the disfigured, and he exemplifies the emerging focus of religion on the individual. I think it’s a very important part of his sort of charisma.”
Father Whitman said he would ask for prayers if he could relay one message to Pope Francis.
“The first thing I would say to him if I only had one thing to say is that he prays for the people of Spartanburg,” he said. “Not because we are in any danger or not because we are in peril but because everybody in the world needs prayer. And without prayer we can do nothing. And without God we can do nothing. And prayer is our conversation with him.”
Bishop Guglielmone left for Washington, D.C. Tuesday. Pope Francis had a prayer meeting with bishops at St. Mathews Cathedral on Wednesday.
Pope Francis has also spoken out for the care of the Earth. “I know some folks have disagreed with his premises,” Guglielmone said. “But the basic idea is that this earth is a gift from God — the planet in which we live. And we have a responsibility and stewardship to take care of it and to do our very best to ensure that it’s going to be a place of beautiful habitation for future generations.”
Guglielmone has met with Pope Francis’ predecessors Pope Benedict XVI and has met with Pope John Paul II. “This will be the first time I will have the opportunity to meet Pope Francis,” he said.
“What I would like to convey to him is that the people of the United States are a good and faithful people,” he said. “They need to feel the support and encouragement of the Pope, the Holy Father. And they also need to be energized in their faith and I hope he will certainly do the very best he can to do that.”
Guglielmone said he understands the excitement for Pope Francis’ visit. “If you look at the Pope and the way he leads his personal life, people are impressed with that,” he said. “He’s a man who is down-to-earth. He’s very much in touch with the people. He loves to meet with the crowds and to talk with folks and to dialogue. I think that has made him very much appreciated by the people. He has a tremendous love for the poor and for those who are struggling and those who are having all kinds of difficulties.”
McCane, who teaches biblical studies, archeology, ancient religions and Latin at Wofford College, said people of all faiths should be watching the Pope’s visit closely. “Many people have thought that over the past several decades religion might be disappearing,” he said. “This has turned out to be completely false. Religion is changing, adapting, modifying itself, but it’s not disappearing. A leader like Pope Francis occupies a distinctive place on the global stage because he leads a very large religious institution which is in itself within a process of great change. The global reach of the Catholic Church means that the way in the Church changes is going to have an effect on religious change everywhere.”
Father Whitman, who is originally from Lebanon, Penn., said he hopes people take away spiritual growth and challenge from Pope Francis’ visit. “It’s always a danger with anyone involved with the church to become complacent with our faith,” he said. “To start taking it for granted, doing the things they’ve always done, praying the way they’ve always prayed. They always go to Mass at the same time every week. If he can challenge people in a good way, that would be something I would really like to see come out of the Holy Father’s visit. Help them see our Lord in a new light or from an angle they haven’t thought about before. And from those Catholics who have been away from the church for a little it might reenergize them into coming back again. We welcome them all with open arms.”