Why even atheists should be praying for Pope Francis

Francis in his Ford

Pope Francis could replace Obama as the pin-up on every liberal and leftist wall. He is now the world's clearest voice for change, writes Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian.

 

The disappointments in Barack Obama have left the world's liberals searching for a new pin-up to take the US president's place. There's an obvious candidate: the head of an organisation those same liberals have long regarded as sexist, homophobic and cruel. The obvious new hero of the left is the pope, writrs Jonathan Freedland.

Pope Francis has already become a phenomenon. His is the most talked-about name on the internet in 2013, ranking ahead of 'Obamacare and 'NSA.' In fourth place comes Francis's Twitter handle, @Pontifex. In Italy, Francesco has fast become the most popular name for new baby boys. Rome reports a surge in tourist numbers, while church attendance is said to be up – both trends attributed to 'the Francis effect.'

His popularity is not hard to fathom. The stories of his personal modesty have become the stuff of instant legend. He carries his own suitcase. He refused the grandeur of the papal palace, preferring to live in a simple hostel. When presented with the traditional red shoes of the pontiff, he declined; instead he telephoned his 81-year-old cobbler in Buenos Aires and asked him to repair his old ones. On Thursday, Francis visited the Italian president – arriving in a blue Ford Focus, with not a blaring siren to be heard.

Some will dismiss these acts as mere gestures, even publicity stunts. But they convey a powerful message, one of almost elemental egalitarianism. He is in the business of scraping away the trappings, the edifice of Vatican wealth accreted over centuries, and returning the church to its core purpose, one Jesus himself might have recognised. He says he wants to preside over 'a poor church, for the poor.' It's not the institution that counts, it's the mission.

All this would warm the heart of even the most fervent atheist, except Francis has gone much further. It seems he wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.

Photo: Last week, Pope Francis visited the Italian president, arriving in a blue Ford Focus, with not a blaring siren to be heard.

FULL STORY Why even atheists should be praying for Pope Francis

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