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Pope Francis has stirred something in me that I haven't felt in a long time. It's nothing religious, but more like an appreciation for the good that religious institutions can do for people. After years of pedophile priest scandals, reflexive opposition to all contraception, and other dogma far afield from my personal views, it is refreshing to hear someone talk about the aspects of the Catholic Church that are good and universal - looking out for those in need, providing comfort, etc. The internal contradictions don't go away - how the Catholic Church could oppose health care because of narrow concerns with contraception while simultaneously denying aid to those most in need is beyond me. But, Pope Francis is changing the conversation away from polarizing issues.
He's got me thinking more about the good things that I liked about the church (community, life lessons, love for others, etc.) and a lot less about those I rejected. He is drawing focus to the big picture items, not the small bore rules. It is an important shift, at least from where I stand.
I'm not going to go back anytime soon, but I must confess to missing the community of the Catholic Church for the first time in 20 years. That is no small feat. You might even say that I'm proud of Pope Francis. That he can somehow tap into a latent Catholic-cultural pride that I though long since excised is pretty remarkable too.