One of the most notable pieces of Catholic ecclesiastical garb is the triangular bejeweled hat, known as a mitre, that has been worn by popes, cardinals, and bishops to commemorate special services or ceremonies since the Middle Ages. Over the years, mitres (from the Greekmitra, or headband) have varied in type, design, and levels of embellishment.
Depending on the occasion, Pope Francis wears several different mitres, of varying ornamentation and style. But this pope, who follows in the Peronist tradition of trying to play to every political stripe, also wears several figurative hats.
On his just completed trip to Cuba, Pope Francis donned the figurative mitres of pope of the periphery, pope of the people, and evangelist-in-chief. Which hat or hats has he chosen for his maiden visit to the United States? Since no one mitre would suit all occasions on U.S. soil, expect the Argentine pontiff to wear several, as he travels to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York this week.
As the pope of mercy, he will likely call on the United States and Europe to welcome refugees from Syria and elsewhere. And though it’s not on his official schedule, he will likely visit victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the church, one of the few weak points of his papacy. Donning his mitre of pope of the periphery, he will probably urge Congress to lift the trade embargo against Cuba, a policy the Vatican has been advocating for many years. And just as in Cuba, and everywhere he has gone, the magnetic Francis will put on his pope of the people cap, as he basks in the affection of adoring crowds who will turn out in impressive numbers to see him.
There is no doubt, however, that Francis will most prominently sport the hat of evangelist-in-chief of the world’s largest Christian denomination, which boasts some 1.2 billion members. So far, there is no evidence of a “Francis effect” in terms of increased attendance at mass or an increased membership in the U.S. church. A successful visit could very well translate into more positive numbers.
Even before visiting the United States for the first time, the charismatic Pope Francis had assumed the mitre of evangelist-in-chief in preparation for his historic visit. Evangelism is a daunting task in a world rife with competition from religious and secular rivals alike. Well aware of the challenges set before him on the trip, Francis has wisely chosen to focus the church’s evangelization efforts on the millions of lapsed Catholics around the world — but especially those in the Americas.
The American church is of vital importance to the Vatican, both because of its size and its recent decline. With 51 million members, the U.S. church is the fourth-largest in the world, behind Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines. Until now it had held its own against mainline Protestants, who have suffered their own catastrophic declines in recent years. The latest surveyfrom Pew Research Center, however, shows unprecedented drop-offs for Catholics, with the percentage of the Catholic population falling from 24 to 21 percent between 2007 and 2014; one in 10 adult Americans is a former Catholic.
Francis believes the ecclesial rules and procedures on matters of the family, such as divorce, have alienated and excluded millions of Catholics. The announcement on the eve of his U.S. trip of new streamlined measures for securing annulments of marriages and a one-year pardon for those who seek forgiveness for having procured an abortion is part of his overarching goal of creating a more inclusive church.
But those same gestures have also troubled conservative bishops in the United States. Pope Francis’s lack of emphasis on the global stage of the church’s traditional messages on abortion, homosexuality, and contraception has alienated many conservative U.S. bishops, who, along with certain pundits and politicians, constitute the core of a rising conservative backlash against him.
The Catholic Church’s dwindling membership in the United States also stems from the recent drop in Mexican emigration. While Mexicans are no longer uniformly Catholic, the influx of millions of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. church had been one of the major reasons Catholicism had managed to avoid the hemorrhaging suffered by mainline Protestantism in recent decades. With both Indian and Chinese immigrants now surpassing Mexicans, the church can no longer bank on a significant future influx of new members from south of the border. For a church that is already 38 percent Latino, a long-term downturn in Mexican immigration to the United States could have dire consequences. Thus, look for the evangelist-in-chief to put immigrants and, to a lesser extent, refugees front and center during his sojourn in the United States.
The concerns Latino Catholics have with the pope are also reflected in the church’s controversial upcoming canonization of 18th-century Spanish friar Junípero Serra, the founder of many of the first missions in present-day California. Referring to Serra as “one of the founding fathers of the United States,” the Latin American pontiff fast-tracked the controversial Franciscan for sainthood, seemingly so that he could officiate Serra’s canonization in Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Sept. 23.
Many Native Americans (and others), by stark contrast, view Serra as the poster boy for European religious and political colonialism, which culminated in genocide. Coming on the heels of Pope Francis’s historicapology in Bolivia this summer for the church’s role in the abuse of indigenous peoples during the Iberian conquest and colonization, his seeming lack of sensitivity to Native Americans, the one sector of the American population that has defected from Catholicism in droves, in favor of surging Pentecostalism, is decidedly peculiar. His failure to grasp the bigger picture — the massive continental exodus of indigenous populations from the church — suggests a rare instance of papal myopia.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows a whopping 89 percent of American Catholics approve of the direction that the Argentine pope has led the church over the past two-and-half years. The unpredictability of this incomparable pope has itself become predictable, but there is no doubt that during his visit to the United States his most visible hat will be that of evangelist-in-chief. How smartly he wears it in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York could have a major impact on the future of the American church.
Fonte: Foreign policy