During his first twelve months in office, Pope Francis has been marshaling his newfound fame in the service of the poor and the marginalized. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he called for greater compassion for the less fortunate, citing the words of St John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs” (EG, n. 57).
Those words struck a nerve with American Catholics. Indeed, the pope’s message reaped much fruit, according to a new Zogby Analytics poll sponsored by the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (or, FADICA) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of National Collections. The sponsors published the research results on March 13, the first twelve month commemoration of the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the Chair of St. Peter in Rome.
According to FADICA, Zogby found that a fourth of the American Catholic Church increased its charitable donations during the last twelve months. Just under half that number (44%) claim Pope Francis had a significant impact on their giving. And, well over two-thirds (77%) of the donors attribute their levels of giving to the message and example of Pope Francis himself. In particular, half (50%) of the poll respondents suggest that the pope’s message about compassion for the poor motivated them to seek to aid others.
But, the elevated giving appears to be more than just a passing phenomenon.
The FADICA funded research indicates the trend will continue into the future, as a matter of fact. Zogby Analytics found that little less than half (44%) of American Catholics foresee that the pope’s message about love, hope, and compassion will inspire them to ramp up giving efforts in the future.
In particular, Pope Francis had an impact among Hispanic Catholics.
Zogby found that of those who elevated their donation levels, 85% of Hispanics attributed their giving to the pope who had significant or some impact on their giving practices, according to poll respondents. Just under two-thirds (30%) of Hispanic Catholics claimed their levels of donation were an increase over the last twelve months’ activities. Almost half of the Hispanics (48%) suggested Pope Francis had inspired them to give more to Catholic efforts or organizations, in particular.
Zogby surveyed some “1,003 Catholic adults in the U.S. … [between] March 7 and March 10, 2014. Using trusted interactive partner resources, thousands of adults were invited to participate in the interactive survey.” The pollsters projected a “confidence interval of 95%” and reported “the margin of error for 1,003 is +/- 3.2 percent points.” Thus, “This means that all other things being equal the survey repeated will have results within the margin of error 95 times out of 100.” For this reason, the research results are considered reliable and indicative of trends representing a larger population of American Catholics.
In the same article that reported Zogby’s findings, the Washington Post announced that while “A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month found that American Catholics and the public give Francis high marks as pope – 85 percent and 66 percent favorability ratings, respectively … so far that has not translated into higher rates of [American] Mass attendance, volunteering at church or going to confession.” Perhaps the Washington Post wanted to throw a wet blanket on the poll’s positive conclusions. We can’t know for certain.
But, here’s what the Washington Post left out of its account.
Around the globe, church attendance is climbing. La Stampa’s Vatican Insider describes one case, noting that “Pope Francis has caused a surge in church attendance and confessions within the Catholic Church,” thus marking “a turning point after decades of decline, [according to England's] Sunday Times.” In fact, one poll of Catholics across England and Wales shows that “In the eight months since Francis began his pontificate, British cathedrals ‘have seen a rise of about 20% in congregations, drawing in both new and lapsed members.’”
Moreover, while the Washington Post set the Zogby Analytics and Pew Research Center polls alongside one another, it neglected to mention that the Pew information is dated. Its pollsters collected the data about church-going between April and October of 2013. The Zogby research is much more current, taking the full sweep of Pope Francis’ first twelve months in office into account. And, that poll reports improvements in parish connections.
About 42% of Zogby’s poll respondents donate to their local parish via weekly offertory collections (43%), special parish appeals (15%), local archdiocesan or diocesan appeals (11%), and automated deposits (9%). These charitable activities are a marked improvement over the past twelve months’ practices, which saw 31% of poll participants giving nothing to their parishes. Of those making donations to their parishes, 24% reported an increase over their estimated giving in the course of the last twelve months. 32% of poll respondents said that increase registered around 1-10%. And, 26% of those polled reported improved connections with their parish as against the previous twelve months.
So, what charitable activities does the pope propose? During Mass at the Domus Sancta Marthae at the Vatican on Friday, March 7, he responded to that question, stating that God desires
Charity that is concerned about the life of our brother, that is not ashamed … of the flesh of our brother. … Our greatest act of holiness relates to the flesh of our brother and the flesh of Jesus Christ. … It means sharing our bread with the hungry, taking care of the sick, the elderly, those who can’t give us anything in return!
According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis “said the most difficult charity (or fasting) is the charity of goodness such as that practiced by the Good Samaritan who bent over the wounded man unlike the priest who hurried past, maybe out of fear of becoming infected.”
In the same sermon, the pope asked his congregation:
When I give alms, do I drop the coin without touching the hand (of the poor person, beggar)? And if by chance I do touch it, do I immediately withdraw it? When I give alms, do I look into the eyes of my brother, my sister? When I know a person is ill, do I go and visit that person? Do I greet him or her with affection? There’s a sign that possibly may help us, it’s a question: Am I capable of giving a caress or a hug to the sick, the elderly, the children, or have I lost sight of the meaning of a caress?
Then, he urged congregants: “Don’t be ashamed of the flesh of our brother, it’s our flesh! We will be judged by the way we behave towards this brother, this sister.”
During Lent, let us become a statistic in the cause of the Francis Revolution. Let us reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. Let us not be ashamed to do so!