Pope Francis’ recent visit to the U.S. showed that his popularity spans many boundaries. Catholics and non-Catholics alike, were intrigued by his visit and had great interest in what Francis had to say. Taking a wider scope, Pope Francis’ ability to span religious boundaries, illustrates how elements can be adapted and appreciated from a faith tradition one may not ‘belong’ to. In the case of Pope Francis, and similarly the Dali Lama, it is acceptable for followers or admirers to transgress these boundaries. People from all walks of life listen and strive to follow the teachings of Pope Francis and the Dali Lama, though many are not Catholic or Buddhist. Yet those that identify as spiritual but not religious and so-called New Agers are often criticized for their eclecticism. It is curious that crossing boundaries is acceptable when it is to admire or even follow a sanctioned leader, but becomes something to question when adopting and adapting beliefs and practices to create a personal spirituality.
Francis doesn’t just happen to transgress boundaries because his followers have a diverse set of belief systems; he makes a conscious effort to do so. It is in his best interest to do so as people of different backgrounds mingle and share their lives together. According to the Pew Research Center, one of four married Catholics have a non-Catholic spouse. As his followers are living mixed lives, he makes an effort for their religion to mix in the world as well.
The Pope’s visit can also help us reflect on other boundaries in American culture, such as church and state. Our freedom of religion is confused as separation of church and state. Francis makes us question such separation. His address to congress, though spiritually motivated was very political and fitting for the venue. He reminds us that the role of religion and government is very much the same: to help people live responsibly in the world. Religion and government could work well together. But boundaries would have to lessen and there would have to be a dedication to balance and moderation to keep extremists at bay. Francis has gained followers and admirers from many spiritual backgrounds. He makes us challenge and transgress boundaries in the interest of a peaceful global village where we can recognize that people are more similar than they are different.