The effects of Pope Francis’ election as the vicar of Christ a year ago March 13 have been felt across the globe and in the smallest corners of Denver.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike are finding the pope’s characteristically humble and simple manner are opening them to the truths of Christ and what it means to be his disciple.
Anything but the Catholic Church
Patti Lynch wasn’t Catholic, but she tuned into the radio March 13, 2013, to listen to what millions of people were breathlessly waiting for: the first Argentine pope’s speech in Rome.
“It was the first papal address that I had ever heard and my first time (listening to) Catholic radio,” said 54-year-old Lynch.
The effect on Lynch was so profound as she was driving her Buick Enclave in Westminster, she stopped paying attention to the road.
“I was so taken with the vision, passion and compassion of his speech that I actually rear-ended a CDOT truck at an intersection,” she said. “I was in Italy with the pope inside of my car!”
She and her son, 22-year-old Tyler Lynch, are in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn and will enter the Church on Easter.
“The pope has been pivotal in my conversion,” Patti said. “I feel like he will really be a catalyst in unifying the greater Church as well as bringing more people to God.”
Tyler, who graduated from Simpson University in California, had the same sometimes non-denominational and other times, Baptist, upbringing. He always felt an unspoken discrimination against Catholics. He could be anything as long as he wasn’t Catholic.
When he heard of Pope Francis’ election as pontiff, he said flippantly: “If there’s anybody who would make me consider being Catholic, I think it’s this guy.”
Through their association with Father Brian Larkin and Queen of Peace Parish’s Father John Nepil, whose sister Katie married Patti’s son Jordan, they learned more about the truths and beauty of the Church as well as the pontiff’s predecessors.
“Pope Francis initially captured my imagination and opened me up to the truth of the Church through his simple humility and just his way of conducting himself,” Tyler said. “Throughout my life I had caricatured the Church as an army of robots, that (Catholics) didn’t need to interpret or reason—just do as they’re told.
“Pope Francis just showed up and broke that caricature. He showed me how radical obedience is necessary and important to the faith life. It wasn’t me turning into a robot but me offering my gifts to God.”
A striking honesty
Marissa Evans, 27, a music teacher who attends Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Church, follows Pope Francis’ homilies on the Vatican website.
“He will always hit something that’s a good reminder for me or a new way to look at something,” she said, adding that she loved the “newness” of the pope.
His answer to the question “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” in an America Magazine interview August 2013 struck Evans.
“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition,” the pope told the reporter.
“Just his answer was good for me to hear,” Evans said. “I feel like the world is always asking us to put ourselves out there as something we’re not. We’re all just a bunch of sinners. It was the truth and it’s striking.”
The pope’s decision to travel in a Ford Focus—the same car Evans drives—reassured her that simplicity is OK, he said.
“I thought that was really neat,” she said. “I could drive the pope around.”
Evans began volunteering at the Gabriel House near St. James Church to help disadvantaged mothers and children in September.
Jonathan Ghaly of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Broomfield, who’s a member of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, said that he’s been moved by Pope Francis’ witness.
He gave his breakfast away, which he said he never does, at a stoplight to a homeless man “not because Pope Francis said so, but because of Pope Francis’ witness. I looked at this homeless man differently than I had before, as my brother—two broken brothers finally talking to each other. And he was so happy.”
The Denver real estate agent said the pope has challenged him to real conversion and to not reduce others to their religion, lack of religion or even lifestyle.
“He is truly the face of Christ who is changing my life now,” he wrote. “Just watching him—so real and unassuming in front of everyone, even and especially in front of non-Christians—gives me a certainty that Christ is among us joyfully, unbiased and present through his friends, here and now, concretely.”
Ambassador of faith
“What I have loved most about Pope Francis is his universal appeal,” said Deanne Vizurraga of St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial. “It really opens doors.”
The 49-year-old mother and wife said she’s had several discussions about the pontiff with strangers and others in her life.
“I had a conversation with a lady, a former Catholic, sitting next to me at the ski lodge who told me how much she liked him, when our conversation turned to discussing universities,” Vizurraga said. “And even my chiropractor, who is Jewish, commented on how much he likes Pope Francis. He just said that out of the blue. I thought that was awesome.”
These conversations are opportunities to evangelize, she said, which she hopes will continue.
“He’s warmed the market for us,” she said. “So when we are in our daily lives, if ‘Catholic’ comes up in a conversation, people are so enthusiastic. I think Pope Francis is such an ambassador for our faith.”