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Pope Francis gathers no moss

Francis a pop icon

The times sure are a-changin': Pope Francis has featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The iconic catalogue of pop culture set out to go 'inside the Pope's gentle revolution,' finding that Francis is the very model of a modern Roman Pontiff, with a style 'perfectly suited to our times.'

- By Mark Binelli, Rolling Stone

Nearly every Wednesday in Rome, the faithful and the curious gather in St Peter's Square for a general audience with the Pope. Since the election of the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio, last March, attendance at papal events has tripled to 6.6 million.

Up close, Pope Francis, a man whose obvious humility, empathy and, above all, devotion to the economically disenfranchised has come to feel perfectly suited to our times, looks stouter than on television.

The topic of Francis' catechesis, or teaching, is Judgment Day, though, true to form, he does not try to conjure images of fire and brimstone. Francis, 77, implores the crowd to think of the prospect of meeting one's maker as something to look forward to, like a wedding, where Jesus and all of the saints in heaven will be waiting with open arms.

He looks up from his script twice to repeat key lines: avanti senza paura (‘go without fear’) and che quel giudizio finale è già in atto (‘the final judgment is already happening’). Coming from this pope, the latter point sounds more like a friendly reminder.

Eventually, he moves to greet the crowd. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, a dour academic, kept this portion of the general audience to a minimum. But Francis, like Bill Clinton, thrives on personal contact, and he spends the better part of an hour greeting believers.

Against the absurd, impossibly baroque, backdrop of the Vatican, a world still run like a medieval court, Francis' election represents what his friend Elisabetta Piqué, an Argentine journalist who has known him for a decade, calls ‘a scandal of normality.’

Francis has consistently confounded expectations with the simplest of gestures: panicking bodyguards by swigging from a cup of maté handed to him by a stranger during a visit to Brazil; cracking up cardinals with jokes at his own expense hours after being elected (to those assembled at his first official dinner as Pope, he deadpanned, ‘May God forgive you for what you've done’).

I figured if any group would express a distinct lack of enthusiasm about their new Jesuit Pope, it would be Opus Dei, so I asked Fr John Paul Wauck, an American Opus Dei priest who has been living in Rome for nearly 20 years. ‘I certainly have no problem at all with anything the Pope says,’ he tells me. ‘I do think there has been a bit of selective reading. People are emphasizing certain things and forgetting other things that he also said.’

Fr Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst at the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, says that the arguments about style versus substance when it comes to Pope Francis are missing the point entirely. ‘In the Catholic Church, style is substance,’ Reese says. ‘We are a church of symbols.’

Photo: Pope Francis, by Stefano Spaziani/Rolling Stone

Full article: Pope Francis: The times they are a-changin' - Inside the Pope's gentle revolution (Rolling Stone)

Related coverage:

Vatican: Rolling Stone article a display of 'superficial journalism' (CNA)

What makes Pope Francis 'person of the year?' (ABC Radio National Breakfast)

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