Describing the pope in a word

“A Pope Francis Lexicon,” a newly published book that coincides with the fifth anniversary of the pope’s election, is a collection of over 50 essays by contributors from around the globe, each writing on a specific word that has become important in the ministry of Pope Francis. The book is published by Liturgical Press in Collegeville. It is edited by Cindy Wooden, Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service, and Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter.

To join in the anniversary celebration, The Visitor asked local Catholics to offer a word or phrase that best describes the Holy Father and/or his pontificate.


“So often through the first five years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, he speaks of having an encounter with Jesus. In his apostolic exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ (‘The Joy of the Gospel’), he says, ‘I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”’ It is an encounter with Jesus Christ that will give us the courage to take up our crosses, not only this Lenten season, but until we meet the Lord face to face.”

— Father Derek Wiechmann
Parochial vicar, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Isanti; Christ the King, Cambridge; Sts. Peter and Paul, Braham


“When I reflect on the past five years of Pope Francis’ papacy the one word that comes to my mind is ‘shepherd.’ Not only does he challenge each of us to tend the sheep but he also challenges all of us to ‘smell like the sheep’ as well. But what I love the most is that he leads us by his example. I was struck from the very beginning by his humility as he asked all of us to pray for him. He has continued to inspire me with his simplicity, with the gentleness of his spirit and by his authenticity. In Pope Francis I see the same spirit and the same actions that drew so many people to Jesus, the original Good Shepherd.”

— Deacon Larry Sell
Sts. Peter and Paul, Richmond; St. Boniface, Cold Spring; and St. James, Jacobs Prairie


“There are so many words that describe the pope that it is almost impossible to choose just one. You could spend a whole day talking about how loving, kind or charitable he is. You could talk forever about his faith or his love for God. You could say the same thing about most of the popes we’ve had.

“The one thing I think makes Pope Francis different from the rest is his acceptance. He’s accepting of everybody. He accepts the fact that we sin because he knows we are only human. He realizes that God makes each and every one of us in his own image. We are all different, and he appreciates our differences. I believe that the main goal of the Catholic Church is to spread God’s love. He loves people for who they are, just as God loves them. He teaches people to love and accept each other. I think this acceptance is what makes Pope Francis truly great.”

— Jessica Dolan
Sophomore, Albany High School and member of Seven Dolors Church, Albany


“The word that comes to mind first when thinking about Pope Francis is wisdom. I believe the Holy Spirit guides him every day. The wisdom in his decisions and dealing with the problems of the world is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit. The world is so full of problems and challenges that, without wisdom, Pope Francis would be doomed. He has a way of careful contemplation that decision-makers in our world should emulate. None of this can happen without wisdom. Using Pope Francis as a model of living out God’s message, the world could become a far better place, a place of understanding, justice, fairness, hope and compassion. Whether by design or by accident, the wisdom that he possesses will be passed on to others, which could make the world a better place to live. Isn’t that what God would want? Teaching the believers with wisdom and being guided by the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis is able to do exactly what God wants, the difficult job of transforming the world one believer at a time.”

— Jason Smith
Principal, St. Henry’s Area School, Perham


“On March 4, 2015, Pope Francis said at his papal audience, ‘We must reawaken our collective sense of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality, helping the elderly know they are a living part of their communities.’ A pastor was asked by a new faith community nurse, ‘What is it you want me to do in our parish?’ He wanted all homebound members to receive the Eucharist weekly. She trained others to help her do this. The Eucharist, life-giving itself to those who spent years coming to Mass to receive. Why would we not keep them ‘living’ in their faith in the later years when they could not come to receive? With holy Communion, [we are] bringing thanks for their past and continued presence in the community, for their past work in their church, and as a way of connecting and keeping all ages involved in the faith community, encouraging them to be prayer warriors for the rest of the members.

“He challenges us to keep all involved from birth to death. Pope Francis encourages us to find ways for every member of our faith community to be blessed, to be able to be ‘living’ life fully in their faith — from the beautiful beginning, busy middle, and wise and accomplished later years — feeling they are loved, cared for and belonging at all stages of life.”

— Annette Jesh
Faith Community Nurse, Parish Health Ministries Program, CentraCare St. Cloud Hospital


“I remember the evening on March 13, 2013, when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis. I was living in Mexico and during that week I was experiencing a vocation retreat. The first words of Pope Francis asking us to pray for Pope Benedict XVI put fire in my heart and they gave me goose bumps; with those words I knew that he was going to be different, a shepherd. This shepherd was going to bring Christ and the church to the poor, to the needy and to marginalized people. The simplicity and humility of Pope Francis make him the beloved shepherd that not only guides his flock, but he is also a shepherd that listens to, dialogues with and asks forgiveness from his flock, his people. His final blessing of that night was recorded in my heart, when he asked us to pray over him; this was a sign of the good shepherd that does not walk without the prayer of his flock.”

— Crosier Brother Daniel Hernandez Flores
Crosier Priory, Onamia


“The constant empathy shown by our humble Pope Francis to each person he meets has endeared him to a world longing for peace and compassion. Instead of judging their actions, he is empathetic to their situation, looking into their eyes, listening intently to them.

“Marrying a Catholic couple on an airplane brought many raised eyebrows! Was he following church law? Yes, validating a marriage, using the moment to bring a couple back into the church. He was showing empathy as a pastor to their individual situation.

“Visiting the penitentiary of Ciudad Juarez, listening to prisoners, showing empathy as they expressed their fears and hopes for the future and encouraging them to go out of their prison as ‘prophets’ [and] ‘work so that this society which uses people and discards them will not go on claiming victims.’

“Taking hold of a little girl’s hand while continuing his speech, letting her know in that small gesture that he was fully aware of her presence.

“And one of the first accomplishments of his papacy? Having showers, barbershops and laundry facilities put in the Vatican for the poor and homeless.

“Pope Francis is completely open and friendly, free of the entanglements of trying to do and say the ‘right’ thing. Consistently being this empathic, Christlike example to his flock, to the world.”

— Nancy Zaczkowski
Pastoral assistant and parish nurse, St. Anthony Parish, St. Cloud


“After Francis’ election as pope, we were treated to a photograph of him at the counter of his hotel checking out. This image marks for me the beginning of a pontificate that encounters people and situations in a very real way. He visits prisons and orphanages, and challenges other ministers to reach out to the marginalized; to symbolically acquire the smell of the sheep. That is a call for close encounters indeed.

“I personally appreciated my encounter with Pope Francis’ letter ‘Amoris Laetitia.’ He encourages good preparation for the sacrament of marriage and tells the married not to expect perfection. But he also promotes charity toward the divorced and widowed and their children (I think he would enjoy being on a Beginning Experience Weekend team). He wants clergy education to go beyond doctrine, exploring the candidate’s psychological background and experiences. As a graduate of St. John’s School of Theology, I value how Pope Francis emphasizes that in priestly formation, the presence of lay people, and especially women, promotes a better understanding of the different vocations in the church. Thus, for Pope Francis’ pastoral team, rather than being insulated from others, he calls us all to engage in healthy encounters.”

— Deborah Forstner
Director of chaplaincy, Lake Region Healthcare, Fergus Falls

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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