How Pope Francis' sincere humanity has shaped his pontificate

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter Square, Feb. 22, 2017. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

Rather than a weakness, Pope Francis' humanity – and his acknowledgment of it – has been a source of strength and impact during the four years of his pontificate, said Vatican's press office director.

“The Pope says something which is very impressive, which is: 'I am a sinner,'” Greg Burke told EWTN News Nightly. “And I think he says that in every interview he does, that none of us is without fault. I think that's been part of his strength: how human he is.”

“Yes, he is the Vicar of Christ and yet at the same time he's a human being like the rest of us.”

Burke reflected on one small moment from Francis’ pontificate that stands out in particular as hugely impactful: which was “when the Pope got down on his knees to go to Confession himself, in front of the cameras.”

The way that Pope Francis leads by example “has done a great service to all of us,” Burke said.

Burke was appointed Director of the Vatican’s press office in July 2016, after just under six months as vice director. Formerly a Rome correspondent for Fox News Channel and Time Magazine, he has worked in the Vatican since June 2012 when he was appointed senior communications advisor to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

March is the month of anniversaries, with March 13 marking the fourth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election as pontiff, and March 19 the anniversary of the start of his pontificate.

Burke said that in these four years there have been many significant moments, but one that stands out to him is the Year of Mercy, “because it wasn't just that year it was the whole spirit of mercy which I think the Pope has helped remind everyone of.”

“That God is waiting there to forgive us, something he said from the first week of his pontificate, and people knew perhaps, but it's been a great reminder.”

A few of the trips Pope Francis has taken “where he wasn’t supposed to go” were also important moments, he pointed out. For example, when Typhoon Haiyan – the deadliest typhoon on record – hit the Philippines in November 2013, Francis “insisted on going,” saying “I’m not going to leave those people alone.”

“That was impressive,” Burke said.

The Pope also went to the war-torn Central African Republic, “despite the risks,” Burke noted, because he thought it was important that he go there, “so he did.”

In general, Burke said that he believes the Pope’s impact on the Church the last four years “has been huge.”

“The Pope has helped people rediscover the joy of what it means to believe. That despite anyone's limitations, despite their sins, despite the crosses one might have to carry, there is an inherent joy in the Christian life.”

His impact on the world at large has been much the same, he said. “Much of what makes a Christian a better Christian also makes a human being a better human being. In terms of taking care of the poor, visiting the lonely or the sick.”

“And I think the Pope has been a huge wakeup call in that sense, for all faiths, of taking better care of their neighbors,” Burke noted.

Despite confusing or misleading headlines at times, Francis’ message has been consistent the last four years, Burke said: “the Pope's main message is simple and that remains: God loves you, God forgives you, and you just have to be willing to ask for that forgiveness and share God's love with others.”

A lot of people think that the pace of activities Francis keeps are what makes it a “break-neck papacy,” Burke said, but in reality, what has changed the most is communications.

“I think we keep up with it just like everybody else does. Though it's not always easy,” he said.

Personally, Burke said that Pope Francis has impacted him in many ways over the last four years, one of which is in how he pays attention to the person right in front of him.

“He has somebody in front of him and for that moment it's that person and that person is all that counts and I think there's a lot to learn from that,” he said.

“Quite frankly, most of us are busy with a million things, we're busy with our cellphones. We're talking to people and yet at the same time we're checking Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and maybe that's what saves the Pope – that he's not there with his cellphone.”

Mary Shovlain contributed to this story.

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