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Focus on Francis

New book offers daily teachings of the pope

When Pope Francis was elected last March, over 130,000 people instantly learned about it because of Kevin Cotter. He was behind the idea of PopeAlarm, a service whereby news of the “white smoke” emanating from the Sistine Chapel was transmitted to cell phones and mobile devices.

Now Cotter is bringing more good news of the pope with Through the Year With Pope Francis, a new book from Our Sunday Visitor containing daily meditations by the first pope from the Americas.

Kevin Cotter with his wife, Lisa, and their children.

Cotter has a master’s degree in Scripture from the Augustine Institute and is director of web and curriculum at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), the outreach to Catholic students on campus, based outside of Denver. He and his wife, Lisa, both 30, have three children, ages 7, 5 and 3 months.

Fathers for Good: You’ve culled 365 quotes from the writings and speeches of our pope. What is the most interesting, inspiring, or surprising?

Kevin Cotter: This is a little like trying to pick the best flavor of ice cream. There are so many good quotes. Perhaps, the best thing I can do is give you a quote that encapsulates Pope Francis’ style. It’s from an address he gave to seminarians and novices on July 6, 2013:

“Some will say: joy is born from possessions, so they go in quest of the latest model of the smartphone, the fastest scooter, the showy car.... but I tell you, it truly grieves me to see a priest or a sister with the latest model of a car: but this can’t be! It can’t be. You think: “so do we now have to go by bicycle, Father?” Bicycles are good! Msgr. Alfred rides a bicycle. He goes by bike. I think that cars are necessary because there is so much work to be done, and also in order to get about .... but choose a more humble car! And if you like the beautiful one, only think of all the children who are dying of hunger.”

This encapsulates Pope Francis’ style in many ways:
1.       It uses an everyday example that people can relate to (smartphones, cars).
2.       It is communicated as if he was speaking to a friend.
3.       It relates to a modern situation (our desire for possessions).
4.       It speaks to a decision of the heart.
5.       It challenges us to embrace the Gospel instead of the things of this world.
6.       It also sounds a little like our grandparents would speak, which sometimes,
          I think, Pope Francis is—a fantastic grandfather for all of us.

FFG: What can Pope Francis’ thought do for fathers and families?

Cotter: Since his election, people continue to ask me, “What is it about Pope Francis? What makes him so great?” After reading so much of his work, I believe Pope Francis’ greatest strength is that he can clearly communicate the Gospel in a way that everyone can understand. This Gospel is sometimes alarming, comforting, unbelievable, simple, radical, and even somehow all of these things simultaneously. It is this Gospel that families need to hear today. It calls us to believe, to love, to remember, to forgive, to share our faith, to serve and so much more. It’s easy for families to lose sight of this in their everyday lives.

Practically, people have shared that they are reading the reflections as a family. Between the short quotes and Pope Francis’ down to earth style, it is something that could be used during prayers before bed that almost everyone in the family can understand, think about, and apply to their lives.

FFG: How do you live out your faith in your family?

Cotter: For me, my faith begins with prayer. My wife and I are very convicted about praying for 30 minutes each day. We are busy and sometimes it is tough, but our experience is that it is always worth it. It allows us to prioritize our lives each day and gives us the vision for how we handle our day, our work, our emotions, and our family. We definitely notice a difference in ourselves (and each other) when we miss prayer.

I’m also convicted of the need to do outreach and service as a way to practically live out my faith. Last year, I started to lead a Bible study at our local jail. I’m amazed at what the Lord is able to do when we open the Word of God with others in times of need and even more amazed at what he teaches me as well.
With our family, our hope is to make our faith something woven into the everyday fabric of our lives. This happens through prayer and instruction throughout the day. We really enjoy following the liturgical calendar and celebrating major seasons like Advent, Lent and Easter, with a time for family prayer each night as well as the celebration of saint feast days that are meaningful to our family. I also love to share the faith with my family at informal times, like taking time to answer questions my kids bring up, having conversations before bed, and giving them quality time.

FFG: What do you do at FOCUS?

Cotter: My official title at FOCUS is director of web and curriculum. To understand my role, it helps to have some context of FOCUS’ work. FOCUS has been in existence for roughly 15 years and, through God’s grace, is currently serving 83 campuses around the country with teams of four full-time missionaries or more. This equates to having over 10,000 students involved in Bible studies. We are seeking to be on 100 campuses next year and are looking to continue a similar path of growth in the future. With our current size, the potential for future growth, and the thousands of students involved in our program who graduate and transition into parish life, we are given a tremendous amount of opportunities to be in service to the Gospel.

In my work with curriculum, we provide resources for evangelization, Bible studies, and discipleship that missionaries and student leaders use across the country. We want to make the work of evangelization easier for these folks so that they can spend more time with people and less time trying to create materials. We also seek to make these resources transferable, meaning they can be easily taught to someone else on campus.

The Holy Fathers over the last 100 years have emphasized again and again that each Catholic needs to evangelize. If this is the case, we need to make resources and materials to allow this to happen. We need to make them easy enough to use and simple enough to be taught to others. Evangelization doesn’t just happen.

For information about the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, visit focus.org.