As a recovering "Cathaolic" and more precisely as a proud practicing atheist, I find myself in uncharted territory.
I despise organized religions.
Everywhere you turn somebody is killing, bombing, terrorizing in the name of God. A God, whose existence has never been proven, and most importantly nowadays, does not have a Facebook page or a Twitter account.
Once in awhile a charismatic figure appears on the world stage: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama: spiritual, compassionate, non-violent men, capable of changing planetary consciousness.
I never imagined that such a person would come out of the Vatican.
But a tsunami named Francesco is that man.
He hails from a place down under where its most revered icon, until now, was Eva Peron. In the last seven years he has tried to show us where we are so that we know how to get somewhere else. And it's not a simple task teaching Christians to be Christian.
The 266th Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth stepped on the balcony of St Peter's Cathedral April 2013. The Catholic Church and the world at large have not been the same since. A man whose obvious humility, empathy, and dedication to the disenfranchised, is perfectly suited for our times.
His humanity is revolutionary.
What has emerged so far is the tone of the dialogue combined with a defined sense of justice. Gone are the fire and brimstone speeches replaced by groundbreaking comments on a score of sensitive subjects. He has tackled and addressed science, corruption, divorce, poverty, exploitation, mafia, globalization, racism, the environment and most importantly he has opened his arms to embrace gay people as members of the world community. The latter is a monumental shift if one considers the ingrained anti-LGBT culture within the Catholic hierarchy.
Simply by being non-judgmental and embracing the right of homosexuals to live their lives with dignity and respect, Pope Francis is quietly saying there is room for everyone under the cupola.
It is a subliminal message of unprecedented universal tolerance. In tone and substance, his words "Who am I to judge" were the most uplifting words ever spoken by a pontiff to the LGBT community, anytime, anywhere.
And that's stunning in itself. Concern instead of censure? What a powerful message to send to the one billion Roman Catholics on this Earth.
He has been blunt, attacking tax evasion, migration, debt, corruption, sexual abuse, and the excesses of free markets. He has repeatedly spoken against mass layoffs: "attempting to increase profits by reducing the workforce and thereby adding to the ranks of the unemployed is unconscionable, it is an economy of exclusion and idolatry of money by a financial system which rules rather than serves.” Words that Jesus himself would have spoken if he were here today.
Francis seems unfazed by the expected backlash many of his comments have generated. The "Who Am I to Judge" phrase grabbed headlines around the globe and it has become the key narrative of his pontificate. And now Papa Francesco has openly declared support for civil unions for same-sex couples.
The Pope made the historic remarks in “Francesco" a new documentary film directed by Russian filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, that premiered at the Rome Film Festival this month.
“Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," the Pope said in the film, the Catholic News Agency reported. "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”
Francis has suggested in past interviews that he is not against civil unions, but this is the first time as Pope that he has directly come out in favor of them. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis advocated for same-sex civil unions as an alternative when Argentina was discussing whether to legalize same-sex marriage.
Recently he even had to say this on the matter of science: “I am happy to express my profound esteem and my warm encouragement to carry forward scientific progress.”
It would be nice if Republicans were capable of that kind of enlightened thought. But, in the U.S., that might take a miracle.
There are moments in time when history suddenly accelerates its course and punishes those who remain behind, and history can be even harsher on those who try to set up obstacles and barriers in its path.
This is one of those watershed moments.
Pope Francis is not afraid of opening the sea and leading his flock to a new promised land. He is already changing the course of history through his words and symbolic gestures, distancing himself from an archaic religious dogma that has alienated so many of its followers.
No, I am not a born-again Catholic but he is my choice for Man of the Year. If they let him work, and live, he might turn out as The Man of the Century.
Pier Angelo was born in Italy, moved to England at the age of 17 and learned English at the Nelson School of English. He attended college and graduate school in Manhattan. In 2009 he founded SFGN with Norm Kent. Now he’s retired with his husband Tom and his Affenpinscher Cabbage. He still enjoys writing his column Off The Wall for SFGN.