Lessons from Pope FrancisPope Francis has awed and moved South Koreans not just with his signature beaming smiles and comforting words, but through his humble, tender and sincere demeanor to people from all walks of life. In the first papal visit to Korea in 25 years, Pope Francis waved to hundreds of thousands of excited people from a compact Kia car instead of the bullet-proof luxury sedans VIPs usually prefer on foreign trips. He carried his own bag around. He has been dining and sleeping at the modest two-story residence of Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla, the Holy See’s chief diplomatic representative in Seoul, during his five-day stay in Korea.
On his way to a Mass in the Daejeon World Cup Stadium, he eschewed the usual security formalities and stopped the car several times to greet and reach out to the crowd. His genuine contact with the people and humility was an image we are not familiar with from a powerful figure. The Argentine pontiff, well known from his break with high-handed conventions of the Roman Catholic Church, chose to wear a simple silver Fisherman’s Ring rather than a gold one and old casual black leather shoes instead of handmade red moccasins.
Through exemplary practices of modesty and frugality, Francis has elevated the authority and reputation of the pontiff and his religion. His simple, humble and no-nonsense leadership style gave him the moral authority to pursue sweeping reforms in Catholic institutions, including the corruption-plagued and scandal-ridden Vatican Bank. He declared a fight against the greedy groups, pledging to excommunicate the criminal mafia ring.
Meeting President Park Geun-hye, he advised the leadership to pay special attention to “the poor, the vulnerable, and those who have no voice.” He blessed and consoled families of student victims of the Sewol ferry sinking, wearing a yellow ribbon, a symbol of our worst maritime disaster, on his robe. “Justice, as a virtue, calls for the discipline of forbearance; it demands that we do not forget past injustices, but overcome them through forgiveness, tolerance and cooperation.” His clear and simple words had strong resonance in a country battered with inequalities, conflicts of interest and outside challenges and tensions from North Korea.
The Pope of the People enjoys unprecedented support and popularity across the world beyond the Catholic population through his unique leadership of modesty, simplicity, tolerance, engagement and discipline with a focus entirely on the people and the common good. He offers valuable lessons to leaders at home.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 16, Page 26