John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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On the Pope’s First Anniversary, Some Friendly Advice: Teach the Children

Posted on March 13, 2014

Pope Francis 2013


Wednesdays at St. Peter’s Church


The Wednesday morning Mass at St. Peter’s Church is special, mostly because of the children.  Just about every week, the kids from the St. Peter's Interparish School handle most of the duties of the church service, from the readings to brings up the gifts to leading the congregation in songs.

Perhaps the best part, though, is when the priests, either Father Byrne or Father Riffle, give the homily.  They do a great job of connecting the spiritual to the practical in their sermons.  They tell the kids that listening to their parents, cleaning up their rooms, doing their homework and otherwise being responsible little human beings is a great way to bring glory to God.

Pope Francis' Approach


Pope Francis is taking the same approach to the wider church.  He is teaching the children (and everybody else) by connecting the spiritual to the practical.  He is teaching, mostly by example, deeper truths about human interaction and about what is important in life and to God.

His first year as Pontiff has been a revelation.  Not all Catholics are entirely comfortable with his economic populism or his de-emphasis on some of the most explosive social issues.   But among the wider public, the Pope is wildly popular.

It turns out that humility, fearlessness and compassion are winners with a lot of people.

Each leader of the Catholic Church is confronted with his own challenges.  For John Paul II, it was Communism.  For Pius XII, it was the Nazis.  For John XXIII, it was the rapidly changing societal mores that precipitated Vatican II.  For Benedict, it was the sexual abuse scandals.

Pope Francis' Biggest Challenge


For Francis, I think the biggest challenge of the Church has been relevance, especially in the Western World.

Europe has been a spiritual wasteland for the last two decades, perhaps even longer.  Ireland, the Church’s most passionate home-base, has turned upside down on the Vatican, as its people, disgusted with the sex abuse scandals, have turned away from the faith.

America has become, (especially American politicians and the American media), increasingly antagonistic to the Church, its mission, its teachings, and its legacy.

Francis has confronted this challenge, not with grim determination, but with boundless optimism and love.    Catholics and non-Catholics alike have responded with their overwhelming approval.

How does Francis build on this great start?

Catholic Schools


In my humble opinion, teaching the children should be a huge part of his mission.

Education is perhaps the Church's greatest, most wide-spread contribution to American society.  The Church should double down on spreading the message through its schools.

Catholic Schools do a lot more with a lot less, usually through a rigorous curriculum that includes all of the usual subjects, plus religious instruction.

There has been a troubling trend over the last several decades.   Too many parishes are closing their schools because of inadequate resources.

When Catholic schools close, the Church loses an important way to not only evangelize, but also bring civilization to a society that sorely needs more of it.

The Church doesn’t take an ambivalent approach to what is right and what is wrong.   But it is also doesn't downplay the role of science in the discovery process.   Catholic schools have a distinct point of view, about which they are unapologetic, but they also encourage deeper exploration of both spiritual and scientific truths.

If any society ever needed a better grounding in human ethics and basic morality, it is our society today.

That Francis has made a promising start is not debatable.  60% of Catholics, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, say that the new Pontiff has renewed their faith and commitment in the Church.   The Pope's approval rating are the envy of any politician.  55% have a positive view of him while only 7% have a negative view.

He should use this political capital to renew the American Church's commitment to teaching our children in Catholic Schools.