What Pope Francis Carries in His Briefcase

It is not the secret to the atomic bomb, but extremely powerful nonetheless

Man Praying

On the plane home from World Youth Day, reporters asked Pope Francis what he was carrying in his black briefcase. The unorthodox Pontiff responded that it was a book about St. Therese of Lisieux, to whom he is devoted. The answer may be a disappointment to those who joked that it was the secrets to the atomic bomb, but for Catholics and critics alike it is dynamite.

Saint Therese of Lisieux is one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved and popular saints. She claims Dorothy Day, Edith Piaf, numerous Popes, and other thought-leaders as her devotees. Pope John Paul II declared her to be a Doctor of the Church, an authority on Catholic theology, in 1997. A basilica built in her honor is now the second most visited pilgrimage site in France.

To top it off, St. Therese of the Child Jesus never lived to see her twenty-fifth birthday. Her crowning theological work, Story of a Soul, is mainly the diary of a twenty-two year old struggling with adulthood. For a Pontiff attempting to reach today’s millennials, a generation facing a similar struggle, Francis’ reading material could be a game-changer.

A defining characteristic of the millennial generation, born between 1981 and 2000, is a ferocious desire to make a difference in some way or another. The generation was raised with an emphasis on both academic and extracurricular achievement, and has watched many of their peers skyrocket to fame and fortune relatively quickly via social media start-ups, or reality TV shows. A June survey from Telefonica found that a whopping 40% of millennial believe they can make a lasting global impact.

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Unfortunately, the current economic recession has left few opportunities to do so, deeply discouraging many young people. A February 2013 study by the American Psychological Association found that millennials report the highest rates of depression and anxiety out of any other age group. The study attributes this astonishing figure to lack of employment opportunities and the group’s high expectations for individual achievement.

Pope Francis addressed the Church’s need to comfort the saddest generation en route to World Youth Day. Speaking with reporters, Francis said that the global recession "does not make things easy for the young people…. We run the risk of having an acceleration of a generation that has never had work and from work comes the dignity of the person, which is the power to earn one's bread.”

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