THE BLOG

Him: Pope Francis and a Year in the Modern Imagination

03/19/2014 03:16 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2014

Imagination must be a door...only by going through it can we get to the life God calls us to.

Mary Deeley

Pastoral Associate at Sheil Catholic Center. Trying to listen to the voice of God in the bible, in questions of life, & in many other things

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Mary Deeley

"The President, the Pope and Peyton Manning."

Mary Deeley looks me in the eye and laughs as she tells me the three men who top the invite list for her daughter's wedding. Sitting with her arms outstretched in a chair at Northwestern University's Sheil Catholic Center, Mary continues our conversation in a speedy and reverent tone.

The Pope's invitation is already signed, sealed, delivered. "Mailed it myself," she boasts. Just in case he shows, she's ordered a life-size cut out of the Pope so that guests can take pictures, no matter what. She leans forward, still reverent and now hushed. "Would I have ever said, 'Go and invite Pope Benedict?' No. But invite Pope Francis? Absolutely." He captures our hunger for newness, she says. He might be saying what Benedict said, but it sounds different.

It's true: he's taken up the papal script -- played with it, refined it -- and changed not its heart but its style. "Today's vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness. 'The deposit of the faith is one thing... the way it is expressed is another'" says Francis in his first Apostolic Exhortation, quoting John XXIII's opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Mary takes a deep breath and begins to tell me about watching his election on TV. "When he bowed before everyone to ask them to pray for him, that was just pro-found. I mean, not one of us didn't have tears in our eyes. It was such a beautiful and simple gesture. And I think that's what's captured the imagination of the people. Who is this?"

Maddie Amos

Maddie Amos, a Northwestern Class of 2013 Art Theory & Practice graduate, now works for the Vatican Museums. While it's not as if the Pope walks though her office regularly, she swears he'd shake the hand of every person there (no surprise, then, to read that he disregards security barriers to joke and shake hands with his audience, washes the feet of inmates and embraces a deformed man ). It happened to her last October when her office had a private audience to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Maddie, known for her rapid-fire tongue, froze when her turn to take and kiss his hand came. He kept holding her hand, smiling back, looking into her eyes until she snapped out of it and uttered "grazie per tutto!" Thanks for everything.

"Shocking."

"So human, so real."

"Like some god."

This is how Maddie experiences her Pope.

Jorge and Francis

When the Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., asks, "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?" for Italian Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica's exclusive interview, silence comes first. Then, his answer: "I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner."

Before Pope Francis was the 266th pope, he was Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Born December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the son of Italian immigrants speaks Italian, Spanish and French. Bach and Mozart are his favorite musicians; he loves Dostoevsky; Jorge Luis Borges is his influence and friend. Fellini, Magnani, Rome, Open City: he loves Italian Cinema and tragic artists, he tells Spadaro before diving into a Don Quixote quote: "Children have it in their hands, young people read it, adults understand it, the elderly praise it." Imagination at its finest.

Who is Jorge now? Today, he goes by Francis. He was elected Supreme Pontiff -- the Pope, to us lay people -- on March 13, 2013. On this day, he admits that the realization of his election brought a "deep and inexplicable peace and interior consolation" over him, says Spadaro. He faced this unknown future with "a great darkness, a deep obscurity about everything else." One could only imagine the year to come.

Barack

President Obama receives a draft of his speech on income inequality and sends it back with one request: add the Pope. Come December 4, 2013, Obama directly quotes Evangelii Gaudium: "Across the developed world, inequality has increased," he says. "Some of you may have seen just last week, the pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length. 'How could it be,' he wrote, 'that it's not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?'"

Political prowess demands ethos. If you're in pursuit of credibility, why not turn to turn to TIME's Person of the Year, GQ's Most Stylish Man of 2013, or a Rolling Stone cover model? Or, as conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh puts it, "This is the president citing the pope, his new best friend, because the pope is ripping America, the pope ripping capitalism. And Obama's having an orgasm."

"I don't want to fetishize the pope. He heads a deeply patriarchal and homophobic organization that I'm critical of. But I love who he is, in terms of what he says, and the impact of his words on progressive forces around the world," says Cornel West, megaphone of the Christian left, in the February 2014 Rolling Stone cover story. But let's not obsess, lest we create a papal pinup.

The Creative Ventriloquist

All of this holds true if you believe today's Proof by Headline.

His most quoted words: "I am a sinner." "Who am I to judge?" "Pray for me."

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Thank you for all your warm wishes on my anniversary. Please continue praying for me.

Pope Francis Verified account

Welcome to the official Twitter page of His Holiness Pope Francis

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Welcome to our modern imagination: a sort of modern-day Twilight Zone, another dimension where we do not know who or exactly what, why or how we know.