When Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia this week for his first visit to the United States, he will be greeted by dignitaries and addressed as “Your Holiness.” It is a title of respect for the head of the world’s largest Christian denomination. But Pope Francis is a man who has been called by many names and titles.
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis has by turns been called Father; Bishop; Archbishop; Cardinal and now; His Holiness Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome. His Holiness chose the name “Francis” in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a figure noted for his love and compassion for the poor. It was an appropriate choice for a man who has advocated for the poor and oppressed throughout his many decades of ministry. But the Pontiff is also worthy of another title: Bible Advocate.
Since assuming his seat as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has been a frequent advocate for Scripture reading among his 1.2 billion parishioners. As Catholics across the United States prepare for the Pope’s visit later this month, the words of Pope Francis offer encouragement to engage with God through the Bible. The Pope has said, “Dear Families, listen to the Word of God, meditate on it together, pray with it, let the Lord fill your lives with mercy.”
American Catholics are increasingly recognizing the importance of heading this call and diving in to God’s Word. In American Bible Society’s 2015 "State of the Bible" research conducted by Barna, 33 percent of Catholic Bible readers expressed a desire to read the Bible more frequently, compared with 22 percent in 2014. Pope Francis was clearly a large instigator of this increase as a passionate Bible advocate.
American Catholics are increasingly recognizing the importance of heading this call and diving in to God’s Word.
This is certainly a desire that reflects the pope’s heart for God’s Word. Pope Francis has said, “I would like so much for all Christians to be able to comprehend ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ’ through the diligent reading of the Word of God, for the sacred text is the nourishment of the soul and the pure and perennial source of the spiritual life of all of us.”
As His Holiness prepares to encourage families across the U.S., it is not difficult to guess where he will point families. When discussing the place of the Bible in the home, Pope Francis reminded Catholics that the place for God’s Word is not on a shelf. Instead, the pontiff said, the Bible should be kept “at hand, to read it often, every day, both individually and together, husband and wife, parents and children, maybe in the evening, especially on Sundays. This way the family grows, walks, with the light and power of the Word of God!”
American Bible Society will be passing out copies of the Gospel of Luke in six languages to the thousands of people coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. This piece will help people answer the Pope’s call to engage with the Bible. During his historic visit, American Bible Society Board Chairman Nicholas Athens and I will have the honor of presenting a copy of this polyglot Scripture portion to the Pontiff. I look forward to thanking him for all he is doing to encourage Bible engagement.
I know that Americans, and residents of my own city of Philadelphia in particular, will greet Pope Francis warmly when he arrives in the United States. During his trip, he will be called by many titles. But I’m happy to think of him by a title that he has certainly earned: Pope Francis, Bible Advocate.