The papacy of Pope Francis will reflect “an outreach, like never before, to those who have been left out, left behind,” Rep. Chris Smith tells Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview.
“There will be a very significant reenergizing throughout all the dioceses, through the bishops and the cardinals and then right down to the pastoral level to ensure that the poor are cared for,” the New Jersey Republican, who attended the Pope’s investiture at the Vatican last week, tells Newsmax.
“The church does a magnificent job already, but this will be like a redoubling of our efforts to a greater degree to identify with the plight of those who are hurting.
“This pope, I believe, will say we need to care for everyone, include everyone and to love everyone in a way that is very real,” Smith says.
The congressman, 60, says he was in awe of Pope Francis’ investiture, which brought an estimated 200,000 people from more than 180 nations to St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
“It was a holy event — much prayer, prayers of the faithful, seeing the Pope move around on his Popemobile,” Smith tells Newsmax. “His warmth was very evident. His homily admonished and encouraged all of us to be protectors.
“He picked the speech of St. Joseph the Protector for this wonderful ceremony — and his homily teed off on that.”
Smith adds that the Pope’s homily asked questions based on Matthew 25: “When I was hungry did you feed me? When I was naked, did you clothe me? And, then, our Lord said whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do likewise to me.
“And, then, a clarity call to all of us to protect the weakest, the most vulnerable – including an unborn child and all those who are disenfranchised,” he says.
Pope Francis reached out to a broad range of people and faiths.
In fact, Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, attended the papal installation Mass, the first time that a patriarch from the Istanbul-based church attended an investiture since the two branches of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago.
This American delegation included Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Democratic leaders are pro-choice.
“This Pope and the Vatican tried to reach out to people who disagree in the hopes of persuading them, just like those in the civil rights movement who worked for many decades to persuade people to include those who have suffered racial discrimination and to see that racism is a terrible, moral wrong,” Smith says.
“There’s been no doubt that, as pastors and as teachers, the church has said unequivocally and without any ambiguity whatsoever that unborn children need to be treated with respect. And this Pope, as a cardinal, couldn’t have been more clear in saying that these children need to be welcomed and not excluded and destroyed by way of violence.
“So the fact that Vice President Biden was there, I hope he opens up his heart as well as his mind. Same goes for former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
That an American was not chosen to succeed Pope Benedict XVI does not trouble Smith. He says the two most-mentioned candidates, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, will someday make excellent pontiffs.
Smith, chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, met with O’Malley while in Rome.
“It’s a matter of when and not if we get an American Pope, because it really is done not by geographic selection, although many of the popes have been European,” Smith says. “Cardinals Dolan and O’Malley would have and would continue to make extraordinary popes.
“These are really remarkable men who care deeply for the faithful and who are faithfully leading on all matters relating to God and church, but they also reach out to everyone else. The church is universal and it shows by their leadership.”
And, for the upcoming Holy Week, Catholics can expect for Pope Francis’ influence to be most evident.
“He has made an appeal that people re-look at the things that are of eternal value,” Smith tells Newsmax. “There is a secularism that has gained a foothold throughout the world, including in the United States, that somehow takes God as nice but necessary and precludes a very meaningful, dominate role of our faith with the Almighty One.
“He will challenge us to take it to the next level. My sense is that there will be a callback during Holy Week and beyond, for those who have put their faith aside, to not let the daily grind of the everyday crowd out the all-important things of God.”
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By Todd Beamon and John Bachman