The “Francis Effect”

The “Francis Effect” | World Vision Blog

World Vision staff help a refugee family pick out supplies before they continue on their journey to Croatia. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)

Today, Pope Francis is addressing the UN during their annual General Assembly.

Hear what our Senior VP Kent Hill has to say about the pope's visit to Congress this week, and the power of the "Francis Effect" to inspire concern about "the least among us":

"We are hard-wired to never know peace or happiness apart from loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves … and this pope helps us remember that fact."


I stood in line with thousands in the pre-dawn darkness on Wednesday in front of the White House, many hours before Pope Francis arrived for his official welcome to the U.S. by President and Michelle Obama.

There was electricity in the air, even though most of us would not be close enough to see much of the 35-minute ceremony. And the crowd was filled with far more than Catholics. The “Francis Effect,” people say, but what do they mean, what difference does it make, and how do we account for it?

Since the very first moment that the crowd in St. Peter’s Square caught sight of the new pontiff—from the famous window where new popes first appear—after being elected in March 2013, the entire world has been taken with this Argentine pope. He flashed his smile, said “Brothers and Sisters, good evening,” and said in parting: “pray for me.” There was a humility and down-to-earth quality about him that was immediately evident, and it was not long until we all witnessed him setting aside some of the perks of being pope. All that has happened these past two and a half years has only reinforced these initial and positive impressions.

To be sure, there is a certain mystery to the man.

Is he a “liberal,” destined to change Church doctrine and practice, or a “conservative,” who is just leading with love rather than judgment? I suspect that he simply does not and will not fit into these too-neat categories. He seems to be taking his cues from some source other than where the theological pundits pronounce their opinions.

But about one thing, there is no doubt: Pope Francis is all about the “poor,” about “service,” about love and mercy (which is not at all to say that they must not be grounded in “truth”), about caring for “refugees.” Indeed, on Wednesday at the White House, Pope Francis emphasized both “the least among us” and the imperative that America remain faithful to the centrality of religious liberty as foundational to a free people created in the Image of God. In his comments later in the day to over 300 American bishops, he concluded with a plea to have open arms to those who have taken refuge in America.

Pope Francis not only insists that we take care of the earth that God has entrusted to us, but that we must also take care of the unborn, the physically impaired, the elderly, and, of course, the poor and marginalized.

The “Francis Effect” | World Vision Blog
Refugees arrive by the busloads at the Croatian border, where World Vision is providing relief supplies, including bottled water, canned meat, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, diapers, baby food, and toys for the children. People paused for only a moment to pick up what they could easily carry, then hurried on their way to cross the border. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)


The “Francis Effect” seems to center, however, primarily on this pope’s capacity to touch our consciences, to make us—whether we are believers or not—aware of that part of our being that knows deep down that we “ought” to be concerned about the “least among us.” I think that is what people love about this pope. He appeals to “our better selves,” draws us toward the Good and toward God, and frankly, people are discovering that it just feels “right” to listen again to these so-often neglected and muffled inner voices—voices which we as Christians identify with divine Conscience.

Saint Augustine in the fourth century famously said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” In the seventeenth-century, Pascal talked about a “God-shaped void” in each of us. The great gift of this pope, the “Francis Effect,” if you will, is to remind us of the profound truth to which St. Augustine and Pascal testified so long ago: we are hard-wired to never know peace or happiness apart from loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We are profoundly “spiritual” beings, and this pope helps us remember that fact.

We at World Vision pray that the image of that little boy, washed up on the shores of that lonely beach, and the “Francis Effect” will continue to move our supporters to give us the capacity to be faithful to what God has called us to do, which at this historic moment in time means dealing with the desperate needs of internally displaced persons, refugees in the Middle East, and those in transit to Europe and beyond.

In the end, I suspect that it is not really the “Francis Effect” at all that is so powerfully at work these days. I heard a woman at a USAID event recently say that when she sees and hears Pope Francis, she senses that it is actually Jesus who is at work.

Just right: The “Francis Effect” is really the “Jesus Effect.” It is not hard to believe that for this pope there could be no higher compliment.

Kent Hill is the Senior Vice President for International Programs at World Vision U.S.

Jesus—and Pope Francis—calls us to be faithful, to help respond to the desperate needs of the least of these, including refugees. Our staff is on the ground throughout the Middle East and now in Europe providing for their basic needs. Join us in this Refugee Initiative today.

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