Columbus Catholics Welcome Pope Francis to U.S.

Kristen Schmidt
Pope Francis greets crowds earlier this year.

When was the last timea pope seemed as much a rock star as the head of an entire religion? Pope Francis, who arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday, has captured the hearts and attention of people around the world-Catholic or not-elevating his visit to a cultural, not strictly religious, event.

"He's sort of a like a grandpa," says Dan Thimons, director of the marriage and family life office at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus. "He's very warm and welcoming, and people just love listening to him."

Have popes always been this gifted at rallying the faithful as well as exciting people outside the church, or does Francis have a particular knack for public relations?

"Pope John Paul II was a master at connecting with people," says Michael Fagge, an assistant professor of theology at Ohio Dominican University. "He had a theater background, so he knew how to present his work to people."

Pope Benedict was a gifted communicator, too, Fagge says. He was known by seminarians in Rome to be friendly, approachable and usually game for a cup of coffee and some conversation after working hours.

Francis-who's made poverty, inclusion, environmental issues and even international diplomacy hallmarks of his young papacy-might have a style all his own, but his messages aren't all that different from those of his predecessors, Fagge says. For example, John Paul II was a passionate steward of the environment.

Though popes have been increasingly harnessing the technology around them, they've done so cautiously. John Paul II was the first pope to send an email, and Francis has 6.79 million followers on Twitter. "Before technology, you pretty much knew the pope through documents, but, with larger telecommunications, he's become more involved in more decisions," Fagge says. In other words, the job of pope has become both more connected and complicated as access to email and social media has increased. That's something to which all of us can relate.

Philly Bound

About 600 Catholics from Columbus will travel to Philadelphia to celebrate the triennial World Meeting of Families (Sept. 22 to 25) or Pope Francis' visit (Sept. 26 to 27). Dan Thimons, director of the marriage and family life office at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, says it's not too late to make plans to go to Philadelphia, though the window for lodging and organized trips is ever narrowing.

Many people unable to make the trip will gather to watch the pope's Sunday Mass on television. (They'll have better seats than just about anyone in Philadelphia.) Curious about the pope's itinerary and what it might take to make the trip? Visit for detailed information.