This past week at The Summit, a Protestant organization hosted a panel on the “Francis Factor.” Four Catholic panelists spoke on why the world is wooed by the new Pope. One expert on Catholicism in 1920’s America shared that,

“In the early 1900s, many Americans were genuinely frightened by the perceived religious threat of the Roman Catholic Church and the suspected imperialistic intentions of its leader, the Pope. He was plotting the overthrow of the United States, warned the fearful, to “make America Catholic.” His foot soldiers, tens of thousands of Catholic men who called themselves the Knights of Columbus, were busily stockpiling arms and ammunition in the basements of their churches, all in preparation for the day when their papist leader would give the signal for the violent insurrection to begin.”

As another panelist stated, “Who would have guessed back then or even a few years ago with the priest’s sex abuse scandal, that today the world would be looking with hope upon the new Pope.”

The panelists were passionate and informative, but what caught my attention was the energy in the room.

Excitement.

In Protestants.

One ordained Lutheran pastor said, “This Pope has the potential to reverse the Reformation.” Let that noodle in your mind for a bit. Two other Lutherans commented on how they longed to “belong” with the Catholic Church, not convert to Catholicism per se, but rather that the Pope would allow open communion. Again take a minute to noodle on that!

There was something in room.

Actually – it was hope.

Later as I reflected on what happened in the room, my mind went to the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 6, the feeding of the 5,000, there’s this scene where Jesus sets out with his disciples to catch some rest away from the needy crowds. But – they follow him. The text describes these people “running” in desperation. We know from some of the terms Mark used that these were poor people, in need, hoping like crazy that what they had heard and seen Jesus do was the real deal. Could it be? Dare we have hope? There’s this sense that maybe this time it will be different.

That’s what I heard and felt in that room. The news rings with stories of wars, sex trafficking and planes crashing, and our own lives are on the brink of decay and destruction. So we ask: Could it be? Dare we hope?

Expectant hope. That’s what the Pope is raising in people far and wide.

I pondered over those people who ran after Jesus with expectant hope. I imagined how it must have felt when they received the news that Jesus was dead. Crushed. Hope dashed. Life back to normal – broken normal.

In the room there was this expectant hope. Like people were holding their breath in hope that this Pope would be the real deal. Not Jesus by the way. He’s not Jesus. In fact we were reminded of that fact by the host of the panel discussion. She said, “As Protestants, what we do is find those who are living and loving like Jesus and we align ourselves with them.” And what we see is this Pope’s actions, words and demeanor look, taste and smell a lot like our sweet Jesus. As one protestant said,

“In my conversations with friends who are not Catholic but are leaders in their own faith communities, the thing they constantly point to is that he is a beautiful witness of the gospel, at every moment.” – See more

I’ve been watching and marveling at Pope Francis’ willingness to “give up power.” Power does not relinquish power – except Jesus did. It seems that this Pope is aligning himself with Jesus, and it makes us want to align ourselves with him.

In the room was this expectant hope.

A holding of the breath in hopes that it’s true.

The Francis Factor.