Austin Catholics warm to Pope Francis’ message

About 75 people came to the Parish Activity Center at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Northwest Austin Thursday morning to watch a live stream of Pope Francis’ speech to a joint session in Congress. If the goal of the man many are calling the most invigorating and humble pope in recent memory was to provoke a thoughtful discussion, parishioners essentially said “mission accomplished.”

Homemaker Liz Kurtz said the pope had changed her faith.

“I’ve probably been a closet Catholic until learning more about this pope,” Kurtz said. “His role can cut through politics. He speaks to us and has the ear of the highest people in the world. And he doesn’t have to worry about getting elected. I feel excited and hopeful.”

Kurtz called Francis’ call for a global ban on the death penalty “pretty exciting.” Much of the attention on Catholic dogma typically goes to its anti-abortion stance. She also had high marks for the pope’s mention of Dorothy Day, who may one day be canonized for her legacy as a radical Catholic champion for workers and the poor in the 1930s.

Proving that the Internet isn’t as infallible as the holy father, the video stream was hung up for almost 15 minutes at the beginning of the pope’s remarks. But once it was restored, organizers backed up the feed so parishioners wouldn’t miss anything. Parishioners also read Twitter posts on another screen, connecting with about 30,000 others from across the country in the event organized by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, a social justice organization.

Leland Butler, a member of the parish for several years who helped organize the event, said he finds Francis’ voice a unifying one.

“He sets an example without rancor or discord or accusation,” Butler said. “Forgiveness is a huge gift from God. His community is not a gated community.”

Butler also said the pope’s position on climate change fits with his social justice stance.

“What happens to the Earth affects the poorest first,” Butler said.

Everyone who turned out got a #Pope2Congress bingo card with squares for “care for creation,” “workers rights,” “economic imbalance,” defense of unborn life” and the like.

The bingo winners got to talk about what struck them about the speech. One parishioner said she was struck that the pope felt the need to say people needed to treat each other with basic human kindness.

“As people, we need to be constantly reminded to love one another,” said parishioner and co-organizer Emmett Blake, who led the discussion.

Auxiliary Bishop of Austin Daniel Garcia issued this statement about the pope’s visit:

“I think Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the U.S. brings a reassurance of God’s love and mercy to all people living here in the U.S. His visit reminds us that we we are to look after each other with compassion and kindness. I believe people see a joy in him that is infectious and people want to share in it.”

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