Pope Benedict’s secret enthusiasm meter

Is there some kind of “enthusiasm meter” that journalists consult to judge the popularity of a pope? That’s what one reader asked, sending along this Associated Press story. Here’s the headline:

Mexican worshippers underwhelmed by papal visit

Are they? Interesting.

Here’s the dramatic lede:

In a country at least nominally 90 percent Catholic, you would think the news of another papal visit would be met with jubilation.

It’s not that the millions of faithful in Mexico aren’t happy about Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit, expected before Easter next year.

It’s just that they can’t drum up the same kind of emotion they had for his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, a man so beloved that the Vatican was presenting his relics, a vial of blood and a wax likeness, in more than 100 locations throughout the country.

So obviously one might want to know how this enthusiasm is gauged. We learn that Pope John Paul II visited Mexico five times and drew millions each time. We learn that PJPII spoke Spanish, which endeared him to Mexicans who still buy up various goodies with his image.

Here was one thing I found interesting:

There are no Benedict-related items for sale here.

“That Holiness is not very commercial,” explained Jorge Sanchez, a 30-year-old vendor.

The “here” refers, I suppose, to Mexico City. I find it hard to believe that there are literally no Benedict-related items for sale in Mexico City when you can pick them up at the Wal-Mart in Cabo, where my in-laws live. But, hey, I’ve never been to Mexico City.

The story picks up on some nice liturgical elements, such as the fact that Benedict confirmed his travel plans during a Mass honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Here’s more info from that enthusiasm meter:

Many of those who had traveled for days on foot or cycled along highways as a sacrifice applauded when the basilica’s vicar, Monsignor Enrique Glennie Graue, told them Benedict was coming to Mexico.

“His visit shows that he loves Mexico, and in return, Mexico will love him as much as it loved John Paul II,” said Socorro Avendano, 23, accompanied by her husband and 5-month-old daughter. “But we have to see him. We have to see his devotion to Mexico.”

Those who love the phrase “it remains to be seen” will like this line that followed some info about celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe:

It remained to be seen if Pope Benedict will generate as much enthusiasm.

Gabriel Ramirez, a 22-year-old baker, traveled 10 hours on a bus from the southern state of Oaxaca with his wife and 10-month-old daughter to visit the virgin.

But he said it was unlikely he would repeat the trip to see the pope.

“I don’t think I would come because it is too far,” he said.

So we have three anecdotes to substantiate the report that Mexico is underwhelmed. One (somewhat surprising) story from someone who says one of the largest cities in the world has no items bearing the name or likeness of Benedict. Another from someone who says that Mexico will love Benedict just as much as Pope John Paul II, once it gets to meet him. And another saying he can’t make two 20-hour round-trip bus rides with an infant in the span of five months.

Maybe the report is right and Mexico couldn’t care about a papal visit. I don’t know. But perhaps we could use a bit more reportage to substantiate this idea.

Love meter image via Shutterstock.

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  • Jerry

    Is there some kind of enthusiasm meter that journalists consult to judge the popularity of a pope?

    This seems to stem from the same kind of mentality that reporters are using to judge political candidates or perhaps sports figures and movie stars. Because otherwise I don’t see any rationale for even asking the question. Comparing the popularity a long serving Pope who might be named a Saint versus the current Pope seems to me to be a bizarre way of reporting on the Catholic church.

  • Bill

    Jerry is right. John Paul II is a hard act to follow, especially when you’re branded “God’s Rottweiler.” And when you have a population of 114,000,000 and a sample size of three, the confidence level is hardly significant.

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    Similarly, the AP has this wonderful bit of journalism: Pope heads into busy Christmas season tired, weak

    VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI seems worn out.

    People who have spent time with him recently say they found him weaker than they’d ever seen him, seemingly too tired to engage with what they were saying. He no longer meets individually with visiting bishops. A few weeks ago he started using a moving platform to spare him the long walk down St. Peter’s Basilica.

    Benedict turns 85 in the new year, so a slowdown is only natural. Expected. And given his age and continued rigorous work schedule, it’s remarkable he does as much as he does and is in such good health overall: Just this past week he confirmed he would travel to Mexico and Cuba next spring.

    But a decline has been noted as Benedict prepares for next weekend’s grueling Christmas celebrations, which kick off two weeks of intense public appearances. And that raises questions about the future of the papacy given that Benedict himself has said popes should resign if they can’t do the job.

    I was in Rome the week after Thanksgiving. I was at an event where the Holy Father walked right by me. He looked good to me! And when he came in for his Wednesday Audience, he was greeted like, and had the responsive motions of, a Hollywood star.

    Sure, he’s aging. My mom is one year younger to the day than B16, and she’s slowing down. But what of it?

    The real news is, as always, in his words. I wish there would be more coverage of what he’s saying to the world.

    Although, to the AP’s defense, I was glad to see this story on the Pope’s visit to a Roman prison.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I’m 25 years younger than the pope, and wish I had half his energy. Both the papal death watch has started, and won’t be denied.

    However, that’s not my main comment:

    It would be really interesting to see a comparison of coverage of Benedict before and after various events. In other words, what did the pundits predict, and what happened? For example, Josef Ratzinger was “God’s Rottweiler”, but Pope Benedict turns out to be a beloved German Shepherd. What were they saying before he came to the United States – or to England – and what were they saying afterwards?

  • Maureen

    But Pope Benedict is fluent in Spanish. Very. He only spent twenty or thirty years traipsing to various countries in Latin America and South America, fighting liberation theology. The man’s more fluent in Spanish than in English, so come on!

    I suggest a search of Spanish-language media, rather than trusting the AP.

  • Maureen

    Amusingly, some Spanish-language sites give his name as Ratzinger Peintner, giving both dad and mom’s surnames, in the Spanish style. :)

  • Maureen

    Oooookay. It’s not amusing. Apparently, this version of his name mostly shows up in sites that a) claim Jewish ancestry for the pope on his mom’s side and b) don’t think this is a good thing.

    (The sites in English that mention this mostly think it is a good or humorous/ironic thing; apparently there’s talk he’s descended from a famous rabbi. Which isn’t bad, surely.)

    There’s some nasty, nasty corners on the Internet, and it’s always surprising what search terms will get you there.

  • Maureen

    Mimorelia.com noted that: “Mientras todo esto ocurría, decenas de feligreses presentes entonaban las tradicionales porras mexicanas: “¡se ve, se siente, el Papa está presente!”.

    So the end of the AP story apparently got cut off, or the MiMorelia people were watching the broadcast on Vatican TV or some local version of EWTN. :)

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Of course the last thing in the world some quarters in the media want is another pope to become as popular as JPII was (and still is).

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Please keep comments focused on media coverage.

  • Mike O.

    As noted, the article as it stands is a collection of anecdotes. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and assume that there is truly less interest from the Mexican people regarding Benedict than John Paul. Let’s also assume that everyone here is Ms. Licon’s editor. She presents the story to you in its current form. What specifically would you ask her to add to the story to support the premise behind it? Who should she talk to? What information should she be looking for?

  • http://www.protectionnation.com Self Defense Products

    With all due respect, I think Pope John Paul II was (and still is) a more beloved figure than the actual Pope. There was something about him that you just can’t explain, maybe he made us feel closer to God. The current Pope is good, but in my opinion John Paul II will always be my favorite. So maybe there is a secret enthusiasm meter after all, and it seems to be an emotional one.

  • Marie

    What specifically would you ask her to add to the story to support the premise behind it? Who should she talk to? What information should she be looking for?

    I would assume that hotels booked up for visits from the previous Pope. Maybe hotel proprietors would have insight. How far in advance did they see bookings for John Paul II visits? Compare that to now.

    Speak to local Priests. How have their congregations reacted to news of the Pope’s visit. How does it compare to visits by John Paul II.

    Also what was their congregants progression in admiration for John Paul II (from his first visit to his last). This is Benedict’s first visit to Mexico so it should realistically be compared to his predecessors first visit.

    Those are the only ideas I can think of. They would still be anecdotal, but at least they would be based on some kind of roughly verifiable comparison.

  • http://www.devinetoursrome.com Charles Collins

    Okay, the most obvious problem with the story is the dateline – Mexico City. The only thing that has been officially said about this trip, by Vatican Spokesman Father Lombardi, is that the Pope will NOT be going to Mexico City (because of its high altitude being hard on the Pope’s health – he didn’t mention the pollution).

    So what does it matter if someone is not willing to make a return trip to a church in Mexico City to see the Pope, when the Pope won’t be there?

    Why not go to the place where the Mexican press is reporting the pope is actually going, Guanajuato State (a couple of hundred miles north of Mexico City)?

  • Joannie

    I am getting sick and fed up with all of the comparisons of Pope Benedict with his famous newly beatified friend who just happened to be Polish and be a professional actor. In light of the fact that there was and still is a “cult of personality” with him nobody ever wants to point out and also of the preferential treatment he gets. I was reminded by this again today when the Congregation For The Causes of Saints put out their report today and there is absolutely NO MENTION of either Venerable Pius XII or Venerable John Paul I and when either on of them will be up for beatification. God knows they both deserve it as much as Papa “Karol”

  • Passing By

    It’s worth remembering that for twenty-five years, the press was quick to print any criticism of John Paul. Now they use him to beat up on B16. Anyone see a pattern here?

  • Luciano

    For the most part I find the media woefully and willfully ignorant of the Pope and Catholicism, it is to be expected that any perspective they try to manufacture is only to have some say and show their superficial and tentative approach. It’s a hard thing to face the truth because once known it calls us to make changes and for that reason we fear it, avoid it or dance around it. Remember to pray for those who say or write thing that may upset us for in that reaction God may be calling us to lift them up in pryer for God to give them the grace to take that first step they fear to take. God bless us all in Jesus through Mary with Joseph!

  • Bain Wellington

    One topic glaringly omitted from the report was the reason for the visit. It is not a publicity stunt, or a promotional tour, or a vote-catching exercise, or a popularity contest.

    The Holy Father, in announcing the visit at the Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said :-

    . . . supported by divine Providence, before Easter I intend to make an apostolic trip to Mexico and Cuba, in order to proclaim the Word of Christ there, and convince people that this is the time to evangelise with strong faith, living hope and burning charity

    The idea that the success or failure of the visit is to be predicted or measured by commercial sales, is supremely ironic.