Is Pope Francis bigger than The Beatles?

The Beatles

It's fifty years since The Beatles took America by storm. The world has never seen anything like it before or since. Or has it? In this piece from America magazine, religion writer and musician, Bill McGarvey, asks how, in a saturated communications market, a 77-year-old Argentine Pontiff has managed to bump rock stars off the covers of pop-culture magazines, and capture the imagination of the world. Has the Catholic Church found its mojo for engaging in the post-1960s cultural landscape?

- By Bill McGarvey, America.

We have all seen the black and white footage from that February day in 1964. Teenagers by the thousands were screaming from balconies and behind police barricades.

Four Liverpudlians—ranging in age from 20 to 23—emerged from a Boeing 707 appearing as though they had stumbled into an enormous outdoor surprise party.

But with the benefit of a half-century of hindsight, we now know that what stepped off of Pan Am flight 101 from London was much more than a pop group in the eye of a media hurricane.

The Beatles' arrival in America marked the beginning of a revolution that would be felt around the world.

It was a time in which a new generation would question long-held assumptions and beliefs and reassess the value of established institutions.

The Beatles were not simply messengers announcing the arrival of this new generation; they were the embodiment of the message itself.

The band's impact was so swift and total that in 1966, just two years after they had landed in America, John Lennon's claim that The Beatles were 'more popular than Jesus' didn't seem all that far-fetched.

Coincidentally, though perhaps not entirely unrelated, the Catholic Church itself was undergoing a revolutionary moment of its own in the form of the Second Vatican Council (the embodiment of this particular moment, however, has been a far more contentious process).

It's difficult to imagine anything like Beatlemania happening again.

Our attention economy is now overcrowded with endless content choices and technologies. The role that music plays as a shaper of the culture at large is no longer as central either.

The competition for attention in a fragmented media landscape makes it nearly impossible to make a mark on the public consciousness the way The Beatles did 50 years ago.

But what about Francis?

In an era of lightning fast change and mind-numbing options, how does a 77-year-old Argentinean cardinal—essentially unknown less than a year ago—take the world by storm and become the Person of the Year in publications ranging from Time to a national LGBTQ magazine?

How does Rolling Stone, which debuted in 1967 with a picture of John Lennon on its front page, end up with the Vicar of Christ gracing its cover in 2014?

What alternate universe are we living in? Is this a sign of the apocalypse?

Is Pope Francis—the first pontiff to be ordained a priest after Vatican II (1969)—the embodiment of what a Church that has begun to integrate the teachings of the Second Vatican Council looks like?

Photo: The Beatles as they arrive in New York City in 1964. From the United States Library of Congress collection.

Read full article: A Revolution Recalled (America)

Related material: 

Pope Francis was very nearly Pope John: Pontiff wanted to name himself after reformist 'Good Pope' of the Sixties (Mail Online)

Pope Francis Restored My Faith In The Catholic Church (The Huffington Post)

Pope Francis, insult comic (The Week)

Pope Francis Comic Books Now On Your iPhone (Time)

WATCH:

The Beatles, John Lennon and the More Popular Than Jesus Controversy (1966)  (YouTube)

The Beatles first live US concert at the Washington Coliseum (1964)  (YouTube)

The Beatles in a press conference after their Return from the USA (1964) (YouTube)

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