Amid the rattle and hum of clashing worldviews and agenda, is there anything that can be said about Francis’s record after five years that’s truly objective? Perhaps it’s this: Love this maverick pope or hate him, he’s undeniably relevant.
Francis is culturally relevant in a surprising diversity of places, where his unconventional style and speech, combined with his message of mercy, continue to draw wide attention and commentary. Even when embattled and under fire, Francis remains a magnet for the media.
Francis is also politically relevant, with governments around the world tracking his priorities closely, and politicians of all stripes seeking to exploit his charisma for their causes – even if he isn’t always politically decisive, as the stunning success of an anti-immigrant party in Italy’s national elections earlier this month, effectively the pope’s own backyard, illustrates
Finally, Francis is ecclesiastically relevant. That may seem an odd thing to say about a pope, since “relevance” would seem to be taken for granted. Yet while every pope is keenly relevant spiritually and theologically, Francis is also astonishingly relevant in setting the terms of debate within Catholicism.