A star in white: But the pope is not, and does not want to be, a new idol by Dominique Quini

posted Mar 29, 2016, 8:36 AM by Sue Weigand
Today, a pope is one of the most photographed of all celebrities. Media professionals, not to mention thousands upon thousands of fans, delight in capturing the moment while attending a general audience or during a pastoral trip.

Of course, there is no red carpet, no Haute Couture: but a white robe, recognizable at a glance whether on St. Peter’s Square in Rome,or in an African or South American city. 

John-Paul II was an undeniably a photogenic pope. Early in his papacy, he appeared athletic, vibrant, speaking to WYD crowds, meditating on his cross, hood blowing in the wind.

Photos abound, making countless albums. Even more remarkable, he accepted, at the end of his life, to show his face as it was, haggard by sickness and old age, and his diminished, crippled body. Benedict XVI was more timid,more reserved,no doubt uncomfortable being constantly exposed. As for Francis, he has become another paparazzi’ favorite.

This pope’s austere face lights up when he smiles, and there is a bounce to his slightly heavy gait whenever he greets the men, women and children who come to him. We have observed all this during three years of papacy. It has been said that Francis is a builder of bridges rather than walls.

When the media greeted his election with enthusiasm, acclaiming this South American pope who, by his first words and gestures,demonstrated another way of inhabiting this function,of “doing the job”, everyone wondered how long this ambient goodwill could last vis-à-vis the head of a readily criticized and unpopular Catholic Church. When would Francis start losing points – like so many global leaders?

At what moment, at the end of an exhausting trip, would he answer journalists’ questions with an off-hand remark that would take off around the world, creating a buzz because the pope would have reaffirmed the Church’s teaching?

But for the moment, he is still enjoying wide-spread indulgence (no doubt a poorly chosen word under the circumstances). The Laudato si’ encyclical, sent out not only to Catholics but to all well-intentioned men and women, published at the same time as the COP21 meeting on climate change, no doubt has something to do with it.While at the same time (but not exactly in parallel, because these lines eventually meet), Francis invited us to celebrate a Year of Mercy.

The pope, in his manner of being and speaking, manages to embody a Church that is both mater and magistra, teaching and maternal. He calls on conversion, on prayer, on reading of the Word, on the demands of Christian commitment, but he is also the spokesman for the goodness of God. His coherence in words and actions reach beyond religious boundaries, because the world needs these kinds of witnesses.

But the pope is not, and does not want to be, a new idol. We must avoid papolatry that would only annoy us with a different pope.

His person and his personality do not overshadow the message, do not eclipse the injunction to carry the joy of the Gospel to others; on the contrary, they guide our eyes towards Jesus Christ Superstar.

 


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