March 21, 2013

Tracking Pope Francis: The Times They Are a-Changin'

A young priest punches th 001

If there were a gajillion photos of the inauguration mass for Pope Francis this week, this one jumped out at me. There’s no question Jorge Bergoglio, with his Jesuit emphasis on ministration and modesty, has already giving the church quite an idealism injection. With all the clean cut young men, the pleasant smile and the raised fist, the photo has all the connotative idealism of a 60’s peace rally. Or, a Kennedy White House gathering of best and brightest.

As you know from my previous Pope tracking posts, I remain vigilant about how much the Pope’s altruism and compassion for the poor — even if it’s his ethos — also serves as a market device for the church, and a reclamation/distraction vehicle in the face of tough issues such as sexual abuse, gay rights and women’s rights/reproductive rights. (As we learn from the Wikipedia entry: “In 1994, Dylan licensed the “The Times They Are a-Changin'” to be used in an advertisement for the auditing and accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand, as performed by Richie Havens. Two years later, in 1996, a version of the song by Pete Seeger was used in a TV advertisement for the Bank of Montreal.”)

At the same time, however, what a blessing, no?, if the man succeeded in turning the world’s — and consequently, the media’s — focus, in a constructive way, in the direction of greatest need. As much as the 2012 election in the US can be seen as a progressive endorsement of women, gay rights and immigration reform, perhaps the Pope’s agenda, too, suggests a more humanistic period ahead.

Pope frances 12

This photo from St. Peter’s Square of an adherent in sackcloth doubles down on this consciousness. Even if taken during the Cardinal’s conclave, it’s as if it foreshadows the election to come.

Pope guide dog

In spite of the aura, however, what gives me pause is the wider angle here. What we’re intended to focus on (to the exclusion of the rest) is the emphasis, by this contemporary model of St. Francis of Assisi, on the most challenged among us. At the same time, I’m mindful of the fact this photo is a handout, one which not only trumpets the outreach but Vatican Media’s eagerness to get it on video.  I mean, exactly how does selflessness and a deep hope and change mission square with documenting it like hamburger?

On the other hand, assuming media and ministry cannot be divorced, this Pope is the real deal and my skepticism is largely misplaced, then what’s there to say but: right on!

(photo 1: Gregorio Borgia/AP. caption: A young priest punches the air as he reaches his seat in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican for the papal inauguration. photo 2: Michael Sohn/AP caption: A pilgrim kneels in St. Peter’s Square during a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica attended by cardinals before sequestering themselves in the Sistine Chapel for the conclave to elect the next pope at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 12, 2013. photo 3: L’Osservatore Romano, ho via AP. caption:  In this photo made available by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis pats the guide dog of a guest, during a meeting with the media, at the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, March 16, 2013. Pope Francis offered intimate insights Saturday into the moments after his election, telling journalists that he was immediately inspired to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi because of his work for peace and the poor, and was embraced by another cardinal amid applause inside the conclave.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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