Americans have been following the visit of Pope Francis with gusto – most from a distance.
At a watch party for the pope’s speech on Thursday morning with activists in Dallas who hope the pontiff’s message spurs people to action.
On the corner of Taylor Street and South Malcolm X, there’s a place called Life in Deep Ellum – it’s kind of new age Christian mashup of church sanctuary, art gallery and coffee shop.
“He’s amazing, I’m in love with him,” said Elizabeth Villafranca. She’s Catholic, and she came to Life in Deep Ellum to watch the Pope Francis address Congress – projected on a big screen in the cafe. She’s enamored of Francis’s frank talk about being active in fixing the world around you. It’s the core message of Christianity, she says: help those less fortunate than you.
“He’s not making anything new up, he’s not changing the creed, he’s not changing the gospels,” Villafranca said. “He’s simply reminding us what the gospels say and what we should be willing to do if we want to be followers of Christ.”
That same idea motivates the group organizing this watch party. Faith in Texas is what it’s called – and Lydia Bean is the executive director.
“At Faith in Texas, we’re focused on fixing broken systems, and in theological language, we call it systemic sin,” she said. “Sin is individual, but it can also be collective it can also be systemic.”
The organization wants faith communities to mobilize around education, policing, mass incarceration and predatory lending. Reverend Edwin Robinson says it’s about becoming active, just like the pope.
“We have seen faith traditions sort of all across the world working in this charity capacity,” Robinson said. “And now all of a sudden you see this pope who says yes we’re going to do charity but we’re going to interject ourselves into issues of justice, and issues of politics.”
Once Pope Francis started speaking, everyone in the room was riveted.
Francis exhorted America’s leaders to value human life, and defend the dignity of all people. In Deep Ellum, the biggest response came when he called himself the son of immigrants. After the speech Liz Magallanas said seeing the first Latino pope address Congress was exciting. She’s Catholic, and the daughter of undocumented immigrants, and liked “about how we as a nation, as a developed nation, have that duty to help those that are coming in and remember our very roots. The fact that we are a nation of immigrants and we’ve always been the backbone of this nation.”
Faith in Texas isn’t done with the pope, either – it’s planning a rally at the Dallas County Jail on Saturday, one day before the pontiff visits a jail in Pennsylvania.