In September, the pope will visit the U.S. He is scheduled to address both the UN and a joint session of Congress. He is a king of sorts, a fact which many Christians do not realize or choose to forget, even after all we’ve suffered under papal rule.
I’ve finished reading the article about Francis I in this month’s National Geographic. It’s obvious that Robert Draper (text) and Dave Yoder (photos) admire him. They portray him as a man at home in the world, among all kinds of people, and “a saint” who washes the feet of the poor. This prevalent view of him reinforces the need to pray concerning his visit and ongoing influence.
The article highlights the following statement he made in a homily delivered on October 19, 2014, at the beatification ceremony of Pope Paul VI:
“God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”
This statement raises lots of questions. Was he paving the way for sweeping change in the Roman Catholic Church? For an even greater focus on its ecumenical agenda? Or was it simply a reflection of his smooth and disarming style?
The article reinforces what is hard to miss about him. He makes off-the-cuff remarks, and formal pronouncements, that are astonishing. And in his interactions, he is polished and fluent while maintaining an appearance of humility, openness, and frankness.
So, he isn’t someone to believe you can manage. He is a king, and a popular one with a masterful understanding of how to win friends and influence others. According to one of those interviewed, despite his unstudied appearance all that he does is purposeful – he is a player of “chess”.
He can be witty, as this remark shows,
When the new archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli, commented to Francis during a visit to Vatican City about how remarkable it was to see his once dour friend with an omnipresent smile, the pope considered those words carefully, as he always does.
Then Francis, no doubt smiling, said, “It’s very entertaining to be pope.”
And self-effacing, as in this response to a question about gay priests,
“Who am I to judge?’
The author’s selection of quotes paints him as charming and larger than life, someone who may be able to lead the troubled institution of Roman Catholicism toward a brighter future.
“Two years ago,” says Father Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit and a senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, “if you asked anybody on the street, ‘What’s the Catholic Church for and against?’ you would’ve gotten, ‘It’s against gay marriage, against birth control’ – all this stuff. Now if you ask people, they’ll say, ‘Oh, the pope – he’s the guy who loves the poor and doesn’t live in a palace.’ That’s an extraordinary achievement for such an old institution. I jokingly say that Harvard Business School could use him to teach rebranding. And politicians in Washington would kill for his approval rating.”
The authors show him as a man who will hold the line but be an innovator who will forge ahead, feeling the heartbeat of this world and in sync with contemporary morals and views.
“He won’t change doctrine,” insists de la Serna, his Argentine friend. “What he will do is return the church to its true doctrine – the one it has forgotten, the one that puts man back in the center. For too long, the church put sin in the center. By putting the suffering of man, and his relationship with God, back in the center, these harsh attitudes toward homosexuality, divorce, and other things will start to change.”
His popularity is shown to be stellar.
In 2013, the year he was elected, three times as many visitors flocked to Vatican City as in the year before…
When Francis appears in St. Peter’s Square, the cacophony of the crowd crescendos. People become frantic to get him to stop, hoisting banners, photos, rosaries, children to be blessed. Pilgrims come early to claim a prominent spot and wait for hours, though Roman summers can be brutally hot and bright, and winters cold and wet. People often respond to Francis with the intimacy they would a beloved relative, unseen for years; men and women sometimes weep openly, overwhelmed by his presence.
The authors’ portrait of Francis I (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) passes over his personal history, the history of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), and the history of the papal antagonism toward Biblical Christianity. It perpetuates the error that whatever the pope gives his benediction to is therefore blessed. And from reading the article and studying its glossy timeline, you might think that the Reformation and Counter-Reformation had never happened.