A few years into the World War II, the famous American composer Aaron Copland was commissioned to work on a musical piece to honor the first soldiers returning from the war. Copland composed “Fanfare for the Common Man,” not only thinking of those returning from the war, but of those who remained in the U.S. as well. He had in mind every common man. Some historians say that the “Fanfare ” somehow defines the character of American citizens, particularly in the 20th century.
We witnessed this sort of fanfare once again during Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States. Not only because among the many musical pieces that could have been chosen to receive him in Philadelphia, the organization chose Copland’s piece, but also because this common man reminded millions that extraordinary things can be done by every common person.
Indeed Francis, undoubtedly one of the most powerful men and women in the world, has intelligently managed not only how to remain as a common man in the first two and a half years of his pontificate, but also to extend that mission to the rest of the Church. Part of this agenda has been his tireless efforts to transform — not the tradition of the Church, as some have interpreted, but the way in which power traditionally has been understood from Rome. There is a desire in Francis to spread, within and beyond the Church, a new way of being a “shepherd,” a new way of using material goods, a new way of preaching, and a new relationship with those with whom I disagree even on the more poignant issues. By doing this, he is seeking to eradicate the sometimes bourgeoisie manners encrusted in the hierarchy of the Church.
This transformation is what he sought to spread during his six-day visit to the United States, sharing with prison inmates, school students, seminarians, homeless, bishops, dignitaries, and many others. He told the senators, representatives, and judges of the Supreme Court — among other authorities of United States — to enter in real dialogue for the good of the people. He called world leaders gathered at the United Nations to extreme efforts to preserve the common land by changing our way of life. He invited the nuns, religious, and priests at the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, in New York City, to work hard and be aware of the trap of being jealous with regard to one’s free and personal time. He asked once more the forgiveness of the victims of sexual abuse by priests, telling them how ashamed he personally felt, and assuring them that he is committed to preventing and punishing these types of crimes. He praised American nuns, unfairly persecuted for years by a Vatican office, reminding them that the Church would be nothing without them.
More than transformations, Francis is starting a revolution. His invitation is striking not only because of the attractive example he offers, but also by how explicitly he witnesses to the power of the Gospel. Francis is signaling a new way compared to the accustomed manners in the Church, but not with respect to the nature of the Gospel and of the Church itself. Francis came to point out to the Church of the United States, as a common man, this fundamental truth: that the joy of Jesus is for everyone without exception, and that we will live happier as our lives become simpler and our relationships become more peaceful.
As one woman interviewed at one of the many events last week said: “It is God who transforms our lives. The Pope unites us to live that truth, but who transforms is God, not the Pope.” I think that Francis is conducting his papacy sharing the same conviction of this woman.
I firmly believe that Francis is gaining strength to go further in spreading this new way. A way that might demolish sexism in the Church, develop a fuller understanding of the family in Christian perspective, further its discourse with modern science, and be more strongly united to the fate of the world’s poor.
No doubt, the exciting visit of the Pope to the United States is a good precedent for the Synod of Bishops in Rome this coming October. There Francis, the common man, will have the opportunity to make his Church a more common one.