You couldn't turn on the TV or radio or surf the web this past week without hearing or reading about Pope Francis' visit to the United States. The Pope brought with him a sincere focus on poverty, income inequality and those living on the margins of society. He not only called for an "an integrated approach to combating poverty" in his speech to a joint session of Congress, he also lived it by choosing to have lunch with the homeless instead of with members of Congress, visiting inmates and spending time with immigrant school children.
Thanks to wall-to-wall coverage of his visit, Pope Francis was able to shine a very powerful and bright spotlight on the issue of poverty in a way that few politicians have done. I mean, here's one of the most influential religious leaders in the world urging Americans to "fight against poverty and hunger" and yet - save for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders who has made income inequality one of his major platforms - we almost never hear any of the other presidential candidates talk about it.
According to Slate, six of the 15 current Republican presidential candidates self-identify as Catholic, and one Democratic presidential hopeful does. What will be interesting, I think, is to see what they do with Pope Francis' message on poverty and income inequality as the election cycle chugs on and the debates begin to pile up. Will the Catholic candidates pick up some of Francis' themes in the debate? The two Republican debates so far sure haven't focused on those issues. (The Democratic candidates won't have their first debate until next month.)
The folks at Slate say one tactic the candidates might use is to just stay silent on the whole issue. But to steal a quote from a research blog from Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, "if Catholics in the race have paid even a bit of attention to what Pope Francis has been saying they'll have plenty of material to draw upon."