As a latina living in the United States, I worry that the next headline of every major newspaper will read “Congress orders deportation of all Latin Americans.” After seeing the endless cases of suspended rights in the past few years regarding sexual orientation, including the most current case in Missouri where employees are allowed to deny service to LGBTQ people if their religion warrants such action, I question whether this country’s trend of hate will end with the discrimination of the LGBTQ community or be cured by federal laws requiring equal treatment. I am scared that such discrimination will extend to other groups, such as Latinos, and that our next leader will fuel such hate, rather than extinguish the intolerance in our nation.  

I have, however, found a few beacons of hope, between the endless political debates and flashing headlines. The most influential has been the pope. Although I am not a member of the Catholic Church, I respect the pope’s courage in changing centuries old traditions to bring the world together and profess acceptance over hatred. Regardless of where one lives, even in a less-Catholic town like Palo Alto, one can appreciate the pope’s message and his significance in progressive leadership.

The supposed land of freedom and equality is in dire need of a progressive revamp.

According to the New York Times, the pope disregarded the criticism of 43 percent of Catholics against gay and lesbian marriage and took a stance in support of equal rights to marriage in April 2016.  Although Pope Francis did have to compromise in his stance by stating that opposite sex marriage is still superior to same sex marriage, he is taking a drastic step away from a tradition of hatred towards a segment of the American population. The pope’s ruling made me realize that, ironically, the United States was less progressive on the topics of sexuality and civil rights than the Catholic Church, a usually socially conservative institution. The supposed land of freedom and equality is in dire need of a progressive revamp.

By diverging from tradition, the pope is fulfilling his duty – he is directly confronting the fear of change, even with his most conservative followers. Although he may not be the first politician or leader to adequately guide his people or the only one currently doing so, he is perhaps the most influential current leader moving towards positive reform and change, being that 17.5 percent of the world and 25 percent of the United States is Catholic, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Pope Francis proved to the world that the Catholic Church was an ally and not an enemy.

31 percent of American Catholics believe the Church’s public policy should focus on issues such as abortion and contraceptives over aiding the impovrished. Through his actions, the Pope has adjusted the idea of being a “good Catholic” to fit the modern world by shifting the religion’s goals away from issues such as same sex marriage, which have already been ruled upon. He not only created a population of social justice advocates in Catholics around the globe and in the United States, but proved to the world that the Catholic Church was an ally and not an enemy. The pope is creating  another avenue of security and hope for the discriminated and suffering people of the world. By encouraging oppressors to practice tolerance and acknowledging the downtrodden, the Pope is setting the stage for progress in societies across the globe. Through his policy, people like myself, who may be generally liberal in their views, are finally able to collaborate with the Catholic Church, bringing together all views and opinions in a collaborative process.   

Living in a generally less Catholic and conservative area of the country, we may not fully understand the role that religious leaders play in curbing conservative prejudices. Catholics make up a fifth of this country’s population and 55 percent of the Latino population, according to Pew Research Center, 34 percent of them identifying as conservative or very conservative. Given the great influence the Pope has on his religious followers, I hope to see a change in our nation towards applauding our identity as a country of immigrants. However, this change will not occur if only a fifth of the population is moving towards acceptance. As a nation, we must support the change towards tolerance Pope Francis is aiming to make in the world in order to transcend our country’s discriminatory history. As a nation, we must be inspired by the Pope’s messages of tolerance and challenge our leaders to profess love, not hate.     v