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Stories about Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

Why Are Young People Attracted To Pope Francis?

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A Public Religion Research Institute report released this August says less than half of young adults 18 to 29 in the United States  have a favorable view of the Catholic Church. However, nearly two-thirds of those same young adults have positive views of Pope Francis.

On Sept. 24, about 40 faculty and students watched the live broadcast of the first-ever papal address to Congress in a small auditorium at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

A couple of students described a renegade, “innovative” pope who focused more on the poor than on pomp and ceremony -- a fitting image for the pope who turned down lunch with members of Congress in favor of lunch with the homeless in Washington, D.C. that afternoon.

“When he came out to greet everyone after the speech, that was such a humbling moment,” said Kelly Gilbert. “He’s not only speaking to people of authority in our country, but to everyone.”

Other people spoke of Francis’s stances against the death penalty and in support of immigrants in his speech to Congress -- stances millennials are more likely to support than earlier generations.

“I really liked what he said about immigration,” said Evan Catoni. “At this point in time in our country, we really should have a more lenient policy on immigration…everybody should have the opportunity our ancestors had.”

Francis briefly alluded to his conservative position on Catholic debates around abortion, speaking about the importance of “protecting life at every stage of its development,” but ended that comment by demanding not the abolition of abortion but the “global abolition of the death penalty.”

Similarly, the pope made implicit reference to his opposition to gay marriage and divorce by speaking about “the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.” But he was explicit about the importance of protecting the environment -- another stance more millennials share with the Pope than older generations do.

Michael Higgins,Vice President for Mission and Catholic Identity at Sacred Heart University, and an expert in Catholic Studies, said that many of Francis’s stances (think immigration, the death penalty, or the environment) haven’t changed too much from the popes before him.

What has changed, however, is the pope’s tone.

“A good deal of what Pope Francis is doing is largely driven by his personality and his style,” said Higgins. “There is something specific about the dramatic nature, the deeply personal nature of Francis’s approach, which has enormous appeal, not only to Catholics, but to the broader public as well.”

Kathie is a former editor at WSHU.
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