Pope Francis Surprises


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Semilla Luz.

This week, media outlets launched social media round-ups to praise Pope Francis, the “coolest pope ever,” gathering people’s reactionary tweets regarding his “latest cool confession” that he used to work as a nightclub bouncer.

Even at the age of 76, with his current title of pope, he keeps the position cool by sneaking out of the Vatican at night, disguised as a priest to deliver alms to the homeless.

Additionally, several of the statements from Pope Francis’s first major written work, Evangelii Gaudium, have been gaining ample media attention.

One being:

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.”

He follows that people pursuing their interior lives causes them to forget about helping the poor, and how falling subject to greed and consumer culture makes us “resentful, angry and listless.”

Another declaration that’s been repeating throughout media is:

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Argentinean Pope Francis, since being elected in March, is known for his efforts to foster a simpler, more humble church that focuses on helping the poor. He condemns church leaders who are narcissistic, “flattered and sickeningly excited by their couriers.”

Individually speaking, Pope Francis has gained a simple and humble reputation for how he lives in the Vatican, residing in a small suite (after turning down papal palaces) and driving around in a little white Renault that is only excessive in terms of age and mileage. Even during his own election night, Francis did not care to celebrate in a flashy style, as he chose to ride in a minibus with the cardinals that voted for him – over a bulletproof papal limousine. Further, he encourages priests to donate their money to charity rather than buying fancy vehicles.

With the media highlighting the overtly frugal habits of Francis, Reverend Paulinis I. Odozor, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and the Theology of the World Church at Notre Dame, shares his thoughts on the pope’s lifestyle.

“He chose to live in that matter not so much because of the opulence of the Vatican palaces – in fact, many people who have been there tell you they are not quite opulent – but because he wanted to be closer to people,” Odozor tells BTR, adding that the palaces are isolating.

As for his taste in cars, the Reverend says that the pope is sending an interesting message to the church – and to everyone, really – in that leaders should not be so determined or immersed by their trappings.

“Sometimes we put too much attention to serving the person in office rather than making the person serve the rest of us,” he says.

Socially speaking, Francis’s quotes about women’s issues have also received significant analysis, for example, how theology needs to focus more on female figures – he points out how Mary is more important than any of the apostles. The pope maintains the position that only males should be priests, affirming it is “not a question open for discussion,” but does acknowledge, in Evangelii Gaudium, that men and women are equal in dignity, and that females share pastoral responsibilities with religious leaders.

The church still opposes abortion according to Evangelii Gaudium, as eliminating a human life should not be considered a mark of modernization or progress. Nevertheless, Francis reasons: “it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty.”

A few weeks prior to publishing Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis remarked that the church cannot focus solely on issues like abortion, contraception, or gay marriage. He warned that doing so will cause the church’s moral “edifice” to “fall like a house of cards.” Weeks before that, during a press conference, he said that while homosexual acts are a sin, he cannot judge gay people.

Though the not-judging-gays statement has been alerting the public, Reverend Odozor explains that the Pope is not delivering the message that the church outwardly accepts what everyone is doing, but rather, “to say that everybody is in need of God’s message – straight persons, gay persons, all of us.”

The Reverend compares the Catholic Church to a field hospital, in which “God knows we are all wounded in one way or another,” and even if you do not conform to the standards of the church, “you can come home and be accepted as a child of God.”

Nevertheless, the words and actions of Pope Francis continue to surprise, and evoke strong analytical reactions, from people anywhere from Rush Limbaugh, who equates him to a communist to LGBT Catholics, who are hopeful for a societal transformation.