"Big Four" Highlights


Francis for Millennials

Authentic leadership in the Holy Father

By Jason Godin
Associate Editor, Fathers for Good

Men and women of the millennial generation – both the older ones born between 1979 and 1990 as well as the younger set born between 1990 and 1996 –have a rather unholy reputation at first glance. In June 2014, Zogby Analytics reported that 35% of younger respondents identified their religion as “other/nonaffiliated,” with nearly half of both older and younger millennials saying that they “rarely or never attend religious services.” Earlier this year Pew Research observed that Millennials are “less likely to say they believe in God,” with only 58 percent saying they’re “absolutely certain” that God exists.

The same can’t be said, however, about how this generation relates to Pope Francis. A figure identified the world over as leading one of the largest, longest-living organized religions in human history, his first World Youth Day in Brazil found Copacabana Beach awash with young faces. Recently, Collegefeed listed him as one of the top 30 public figures that millennial graduates seeking a job today list for inspiration. What makes the Holy Father so attractive to a generation unattached to religion?

It may sound glib, but you could say that as an apple led humanity to fall from grace, the Holy Father has led people closer to God through an app available on an Apple iPhone. The Holy Father has a staggering 4.41 million followers on Twitter. Closer looks at his tweets reveal deep theological truths transmitted in short, simple statements. A generation steeped in social media and connected by smartphones, millennials appreciate the pope’s virtual acumen.

The mission of the Church has also appeared as the epicenter of Pope Francis’ daily message. Since his election, he has lived in a Vatican community guesthouse instead of the Papal Apartments high above St. Peter’s Square. He moved the primary papal place of residence out of the palace so he could move more closely among others. Such action speaks to a missionary heart that “never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness” but “realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street” (Evangelli Gaudium, 45).

According to McGill University’s Karl Moore and Sienna Zampino, authentic leadership is self-aware, genuine, mission-driven, focused on results, led with heart and focused on the long-term. It is, they concluded recently in Forbes magazine, “the way to the Millennial’s heart.” What you see is what you always get with the Holy Father, both in the real and virtual worlds. Energetic, hopeful, idealistic, the Holy Father practices what he preaches to the point of physical exhaustion, and challenges us to do the same. He urges us all to move out of our comfort zones to the peripheries of culture and society to find those in need, so we can change lives and be changed in the process. His cogent image of the Church as “a field hospital after battle” has captured the imagination, and perhaps enlisted more workers under the banner of the cross. This is the kind of authentic leadership that makes Pope Francis accessible, available and, it seems for millennials, appealing as well.