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Regardless of church affiliation, the arrival of Pope Francis in the U.S. is a chance to hear how a pontiff with a knack for shaking things up looks at America and the issues that divide us.

September 24th, 2015 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

 A “slow food” farmer who has been away from the church for a long time likes this pope’s concern about the exploitation of workers.

A social activist with Pentecostal leanings and a concern for the massive prison population appreciates this pope’s willingness to visit the jailed — and even to wash their feet.

And then there are the various takes on Pope Francis from people within the Roman Catholic Church itself — those who appreciate him for his charisma and humility, those who admire the way he has been champion of the marginalized and those who are still somewhat skeptical about this pope’s commitment to traditional Catholic doctrine.

For many people, regardless of their affiliation with the church, the arrival of Pope Francis in the United States is more than a passing curiosity. It’s a chance to hear how a pontiff with a knack for shaking things up looks at America and the issues that so divide us.

Scores of Hoosiers have made pilgrimages to the East Coast to see the pope up close. Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin was to join other American bishops in an audience with Francis. But most Hoosiers will view him from afar.

At St. John the Evangelist, a Downtown church that sent a delegation to see the pope in person, there will be a pope viewing party Saturday night in the church’s courtyard. And even at a midday Mass on Wednesday, the doings of the pope were not far from the minds of the faithful.

Tom Schoettle, an Indianapolis native back on a visit from his home in California, said Francis represents a change in focus for the church, one that has forced Catholics and others to give more consideration to the poor and to others “who’ve been excluded.”

“I’m very interested to hear what he has to say about our country and the way we live our lives and our culture and draw some guidance,” said Schoettle, who is 52.

Natasha Mader, a Greenwood resident who attended the same service, looks at Francis with more skepticism. His focus on issues of mercy — such as concern for the poor — is well and good. But she is concerned that it seems to have come at the expense of focus on issues such as abortion. Unlike his immediate predecessors, she said, Francis also has been more apt to speak off the cuff, such as his well-publicized statement on homosexuality (“Who am I to judge?”).

“Some of us would almost prefer that he be a little more discreet,” she said.

But that willingness to go off-script is one of the things that endears Francis to Scott Knust, who lives on the Southeastside and is coordinating St. John’s papal viewing party. He has enjoyed the stories about Francis popping into churches to hear confessions, in serving the homeless. “He is just so humble and personable,” Knust said.

Outside the church, Francis is drawing intense interest from those who have heard him speak on issues near to their hearts.

“He’s extremely articulate, very progressive and very, very sincere about social justice,” Gunthorp said. “He’s not afraid to talk about real issues in our society.”

Indianapolis pastor Juard Barnes is part of a group

Indianapolis pastor Juard Barnes is part of a group concerned about mass incarceration who has been heartened by Pope Francis’ concern for prisoners. (Photo: Provided by Juard Barnes)

Juard Barnes, a 57-year-old pastor from a nondenominational church in Indianapolis, appreciates the gestures Francis has made to prisoners, even entering jails to wash the feet of inmates. Barnes is part of an interfaith group called IndyCAN, which is attempting to reduce the number of people in jail, particularly through diversion and mental health programs, and which also seeks to help immigrant families stay together.

Barnes said Francis has shown himself not only to be a voice for the voiceless, but also someone willing to serve those on the margins in the humblest of ways. The pope’s example inspired his organization to host a foot washing Saturday in a local jail.

“I just see him,” Barnes said, “as a guy who is a vessel from God, who is inviting people to look at God’s creation inclusively.”