A new pope in town

A new pope in town March 22, 2014

  Mitchell (SD) Daily Republic, Op-Ed   

     I love this still-pretty-new pope, and I’m not even religious. He jokes around. He cusses (although accidentally and in a second language, but it’s still a hoot). He washes the feet of prisoners. He lambastes preening, self-important princes of the church as “peacocks and crusaders.” He dismisses rule-obsessed Catholic scolds as “sourpusses.” He chooses to wear sensible, black shoes rather than those ruby-red, pope-power ones that mirror Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz but have none of the magic. He’s huggy and kissy. Appropriately.

     He also modestly wishes people would stop making him out to be some sort of rock star for God. “It’s offensive to me,” he snaps.

     Whether or not he’s annoyed by his superstar image is kind of irrelevant; it’s a fact: He exudes a giant Elvis vibe. Calling him Pope “Francis” seems way too stuffy under the circumstances. He’s more like Pope Frankie. And he’s far more like rock band U2’s Bono, an abnormally smart and committed humanitarian activist, than the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, who is just a normal degenerate rock star. The good news is that, say what you will about global mega-celebrities, they can make big things happen, unlike Francis I’s dour, intellectual predecessor, Benedict XVI, who in his heyday was known as “God’s Rottweiler.” Charisma he didn’t have.

     This new pope has tonns of charisma, however, and knowns how to really work a crowd.

     But what really endears this guy to me is how he’s all about stripping his huge, monolithic and complex church down to its powerful sinews, the teachings of the man known in history as Jesus of Nazareth. Whether you’re a true believer or not in Jesus’ divinity, the statements attributed to the human Jesus about human love and kindness continue to profoundly and positively direct the lives of billions of the world’s people today—Muslim, Jew and gentile, pagan and humanist. He was a phenomenon that literally changed the world. Unfortunately, not all the changes, including within the church He inspired, have been good.

     The new pope has signaled that he is aware of the luxury, corruption and malaise evident in the Vatican and throughout the Catholic realm, and that he intends to do something about it. His actions and statements have indicated that what he does not intend to do is be the Inquisitor in Chief, who grabs and punishes every hapless transgressor against church rules. He’s a big-picture guy.

     For example, questioned by the media about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, which canon law condemns, he acted as though it was all a technicality beneath serious discussion. “Who am I to judge?” he asked rhetorically. Pope Francis seems far more interested in getting the faithful out of their overstuffed chairs and helping to relieve pain and suffering among the world’s neediest. He said “small-minded rules” and debatable petty concerns hurt the church’s effectiveness. He called for a church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the the streets.”

     Pope Francis is a new day in the Catholic Church. He’s the first “Bishop of Rome” from Latin America, the first from the Jesuit religious order and the first named after Francis of Assisi, the most beloved saint of the poor.

     He is also the first in ages committed to afflicting the comfortable in the self-satisfied, bloated recesses of Christendom high and low, while ever more broadly comforting the afflicted worldwide.

     I like to think of the new pope as Francis XO, a pontiff even heathens can love.

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