John Avlon for The Daily Beast: Pope Francis's Lessons for the GOP

July 28th, 2013

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The Daily Beast
by John Avlon
July 28, 2013

On the heels of Pope Francis’s triumphant visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, the humble pontiff is reinvigorating the Catholic Church after a time of scandal by reaching out, advancing reforms that threaten powerful special interests and leading by example.

Gone are the palatial apartments, ideological rigidity and red Prada slippers. In its place is a re-emphasis on heart and humility, a principled populist simplicity befitting the first Jesuit in the office. Perhaps not surprisingly, the neophyte pope—not even six months on the job—seems popular with everyone except perhaps the right wing of his own church. And it occurs to this political columnist that in the example of Pope Francis there might be some useful lessons for the modern GOP as they seek to reinvigorate and rededicate their own institution.

Pope Benedict always seemed to be the Dick Cheney of pontiffs. The longtime Vatican insider and master of papal politicking was beloved by conservative theologians for reaffirming strict doctrine and famously arguing that a smaller church of more devout believers would be more desirable than what might be called a “big tent.”

In contrast, Pope Francis is the ultimate outsider, the first South American pontiff in centuries, reflecting and embracing the demographic changes transforming the Catholic Church. He is an unapologetic believer in building a big tent, telling bishops in Rio, “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel. … Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the periphery, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church.” This is a pope who remembers what so many self-styled conservatives often forget: that the essence of evangelism is winning new converts.

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