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R.I. conference seeks 'robust understanding' of Pope Francis

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PORTSMOUTH, R.I. -- Pope Francis' style and leadership have been popular topics since his election over two years ago. On the eve of his first papal visit to the United States, those topics are receiving even greater attention from Americans and will be addressed at a conference held at the Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island June 19-21.

Christopher Fisher, executive director of the Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture, said he hopes the conference will provide deeper insight into Pope Francis' message, something that is often reduced to sound bites in our modern era.

"We want to contribute a robust understanding of the papacy to American public discourse," he said.

This fall, Pope Francis will visit the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, speak at the United Nations and address a joint session of Congress.

The Portsmouth Institute, formed in 2009, is sponsored by the Benedictine monastery in Portsmouth, R.I. The institute seeks to promote Catholic thought on theology, politics, economics and culture. This will be their sixth summer conference, entitled "Like a Shepherd He Will Tend His Flock: Understanding the Francis Papacy." It will include a Mass and adoration as well as talks on the pope's Argentinian heritage and his relationship with the West.

The keynote speaker will be Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley. Cardinal O'Malley is one of nine members of the pope's council of advisors, and the only member from North America. In a 60 Minutes interview, which aired Nov. 16 last year, the cardinal said Pope Francis' unique style has had an "extraordinary impact" on the Catholic Church. He added that the Holy Father is a "great listener" who has performed above the cardinal's high expectations.

Fisher said the cardinal's insights give "unparalleled access" to the inner thinking of the pope.

"I would certainly say there's a natural brotherhood between Cardinal O'Malley and Pope Francis -- the Jesuit, Franciscan pope," he added. "I really think they're cut from the same cloth in terms of their humility and their service to the Church."

Additional speakers include New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, director of Georgetown University's Initiative on Catholic Thought and Public Policy John Carr, National Review editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez and a dozen others.

Other local speakers include Father Roger Landry, a Fall River priest currently working for the Holy See's Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Boston College professor Ali Banuazizi; and Timothy Sherratt, professor at Gordon College, an Evangelical protestant institution in Wenham, Mass.

Father Landry covered the papal conclave that elected Pope Francis for EWTN and has written extensively about the apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel). He said the keys of Francis' pontificate are mission, mercy and joy.

"Pope Francis says that God's greatest joy is sharing with us his mercy, and he wants us to experience that joy more fully by sharing that mercy with others, through our charity, through our sharing with them the life-saving, liberating truths of the Gospel, by our bringing them to the sacraments where they can encounter the God of mercy," he said.

Father Landry added that Pope Francis has been practicing what he preaches by showing his joy among the crowds and embracing those whom the world rejects.

"He has called all pastors to have the smell of the sheep, and he not only draws near to take on the odor of the simple people of God but to transform the aroma with the fragrance of Christ. In doing this, he has been trying to model for the Church the missionary metamorphosis that he is seeking to bring in all Catholics and Catholic institutions," he said.

In an effort to make the summer conference accessible to a wider audience, for the first time this year the Portsmouth Institute will be offering a discount for group registration. Groups and individuals who wish to attend can register at portsmouthinstitute.org.

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