THE BLOG
11/13/2014 10:42 pm ET Updated Jan 13, 2015

Viva il Papa

I am surrounded by thousands of people who are pushing and shoving me. I'm holding my bag close to my body so I won't get pickpocketed. It's dark out. People are singing and chanting. I'm just ready for them to open the doors.

Sounds like a description of someone waiting to go into a Beyoncé concert, doesn't it?

Well, it is 6 a.m. and I'm waiting for the Swiss Guard to open security to let the estimated 70,000 people into St. Peter's Square to attend Mass with Pope Francis. People are singing the Salve Regina (I even heard the "Hail, Holy Queen" from Sister Act as I was waiting) and they are chanting, "Viva la Papa," or "Long live the pope!"

I couldn't help but think... why do all of these people want to see Pope Francis? Why does the world love Pope Francis so much when it seems to have so much hatred for the Catholic Church?

People love Pope Francis so much because they are actually listening to what he is saying. The world was interested in Pope Francis before he was even elected. People were watching their Twitter feeds and their TV screens to see the white smoke come out of the Sistine Chapel. Most people don't have memories of waiting to see when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was elected, and even fewer probably watched, or even cared, when Saint Pope John Paul II was elected. So what's different about Francis?

What I'm proposing is that Francis is not actually changing anything in the Catholic Church. I'm majoring in Catholic theology, and so I often get into religious discussions with people. Recently in my discussions, people have said, "I really appreciate how Pope Francis is changing the Church!"

Wait a second. Slow down. I'm confused about what exactly has changed.

Has he changed the Church's view of homosexuals? Nope. He gave an interview shortly after being elected where he famously said, "Who am I to judge?" regarding homosexuals and the recent midterm report from the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family stated that there was discussion regarding how the Church can be more welcoming of homosexuals and value the gifts that they bring to the community. When people say that Pope Francis is "changing" the Church, this is generally the most obvious example that they use. But this isn't new. In fact, one of my favorite Catholic hymns is titled, "All are Welcome." The very meaning of the word "catholic" is "universal," and a universal faith cannot possibly exclude anyone. A Catholic Church that excludes homosexuals is just as bad as one that excludes people of color, or even one that excludes women. It goes against the very nature of the institution. What Pope Francis is saying is not new in this regard.

The other main example of people saying that the Church is "changing" is extremely recent. Recently, there was a huge news story about how Pope Francis made a groundbreaking story in accepting the Theory of Evolution. This idea seems like a huge breakthrough! But it wasn't. The Catholic Church does not deny Evolution. In fact, it was a Catholic priest who first proposed the Big Bang Theory. Most people would be shocked to discover this, especially in light of media reports regarding the "changing position" of the Catholic Church with regards to modern science. People didn't listen in the past when Pope Pius XII said that there is no conflict between the Catholic faith and the Theory of Evolution in his encyclical Humani Generis or when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared in July 2007 that a clash between evolution and creationism was an "absurdity." But now everyone is listening to Pope Francis.

I also love Pope Francis. Every time I see him, I am absolutely in awe at his humility and his genuine joy and can't help but scream, "Papa Francesco!" as he rides by on the popemobile. After every address that he gives, he concludes it with the words, "Pregate per me. Un abraccio. Arrivederci," as if he was saying goodbye to someone leaving his home, not concluding a speech to thousands of people in St. Peter's Square. Pope Francis is extremely personable, and I have the utmost respect for the Holy Father. But he hasn't changed anything. If nothing is changing in the Church, then something must have changed outside of the Church. People are finally willing to listen.