Almost a full year after the election of Pope Francis, the media mania continues.
Most recently, His Holiness went viral (again!) for a phonetic foul-up in his pronunciation of an Italian word, which led to the eye-popping headline: “Pope drops F-bomb during Vatican blessing.”
Most reacted to this consonantal confusion with an “oops” or a laugh, a response that signals the now common, heart-warming welcome of the evident humanity of the pontiff. That humanity is born of his personal humility and expressed in his constant concern for poor (as in his Message for Lent this year). It naturally appeals to the public. It plays to the crowds. But it’s not a public relations strategy. The words of Pope Francis – even, or especially, the mistaken ones! – create a very realistic encounter.
The modern media eat this up and serve this atypical public image to the world. But the pope, himself, prefers to dismiss the hype and return the focus to its rightful place.
Just this week, on the day before Lent began, he granted yet another newspaper interview – an informal but not unimportant form of papal communication that has contributed to the new media perception of the pope and the Church. Published in Corriere della Sera, it contains no great surprises; in fact, the very straightforward Q&A seems to lack the charm or depth of previous journalistic dialogues.
But there the pope makes clear his own perspective on Francescomania. In his response to the question about his public image, he said: “I like to be among the people, together with those who suffer, to go into the parishes. I don’t like the ideological interpretations, a certain mythology of Pope Francis. When it is said, for example, that he leaves the Vatican at night to go and give food to the homeless on Via Ottaviano. It never occurred to me (to do so). Sigmund Freud said, if I’m not mistaken, that in every ideology there is an aggression. To depict the Pope as a sort of superman, a type of star, seems offensive to me. The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends, like everyone else. A normal person.”
A normal person? Yes and no!
Yes, the normalcy of his likes and dislikes, of his gestures and words, of his everyday actions reveals a bishop at one with the flock he shepherds. But, no, this is not normally how the world perceives the Vicar of Christ and leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
Then again, perhaps now it can … and should.
But, beyond the “coverpope” image generated by newspapers and magazines the world over, we would do well to view Pope Francis in light of Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum: “the medium is the message.”
With Pope Francis, the medium is a living person, one who, according to Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, has a natural capacity to turn communications into an event. But the message he mediates and radiates, is not, ultimately, about him: “the real point of reference is not about Pope Francis but the love of God for human beings, the merciful, tender love of God for human beings.”
That’s the Good News of the Gospel that comes through in the pope’s words, even when they are mispronounced! It’s what Francescomania is really all about.
Featured image snipped from nypost.com