Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Oops, the Pope left his bag on the plane! On babies and the cult of personality...

The Pope departs for Rio:

Source: Washington Post
The Pope arrives, sans bag...

Source: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images
The big news when Pope Francis boarded the (specially chartered) plane to WYD was that he was carrying his own bag.

Oops.  Must have left it on the plane when he got off then?

And lest you think this was a beat up by the secular media, it is worth noting that the official Vatican Radio report of the Pope's departure specifically mentions the fact.

Warning: this is a bit of a rant!

On babies, royal and otherwise

Pope Francis has now arrived in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day (why is it still called that when it is actually a week!), and proceeded through traffic jams and more (in a very modest car and open jeep) through the city, kissing babies as he went.

In fact he managed to just beat the arrival of the future heir to the throne of Australia (for whose safe arrival and the health of the mother we should give thanks; and for whose health, safety and future decision to become a Catholic we should pray!).

In London, hundreds of journalists camped outside the hospital where the third in line to the throne was being born.  It is not entirely clear why, given that the whole process is being managed as privately as possible due to Prince William's laudable determination to avoid a repeat of the Princess Diana phenomenon (don't miss Bruvver Eccles' take on royal births).

When it comes to the Pope however, despite the Butler leaks affair and past assassination attempts on popes, it would seems the lessons of the celebrity culture from the Diana affair and others, have not yet been learnt.

Prudence vs humility?

The media, needless to say, have been lauding the Pope's disdain for prudent security measures as another sign of his humility.

We can of course be grateful that Pope Francis failed to revive that other papal custom of tarmac kissing.

All the same, I can't help but think that a lot of this cult of personality stuff is positively disedifying.

Politicians kiss babies because it gives a nice photo op (babies are always attractive) and makes them look human.

But do we really expect or want our priests and bishops to go around doing the same thing?  And if so, why?

Isn't a hand extended in a simple blessing or a sign of the cross traced on the forehead more appropriate?

(Real) content should be what counts

I understand why people want to see and even touch the Pope, and there can certainly be benefits gained for faith through such events, but I do think encouraging some of this stuff is a strange approach for a man who prefers the title 'bishop of Rome' to Pope.

The counter to this entirely modern rock star treatment of the Pope would surely be for the Pope to use the occasion to get out some strong content messages.

Yet the Pope actually cancelled the usual question and answer session with the press on the plane, gave no interviews (apparently he finds them too exhausting), and instead simply greeted each of the journalists individually.

In that case, why not just have the Pope fly commercially, and let the journalists make their own way to Rio?  Why do we need the whole professional journalistic entourage anyway, isn't it the catechetical sessions and liturgy at WYD that really matters?

And the for the colour and light around the event, why not rely on the blogs, tweets and facebook reports of the pilgrims themselves?  But the Vatican, alas, is still locked in an old media world, a 'yesterday's technology tomorrow' mindset, as only too clearly reflected in the threats made to assorted bloggers over their attempts to promote the Pope's recent encyclical.

Creating a culture of inclusion

All the same, the Pope did make some interesting remarks on the plane so here they are, as reported by Vatican Radio, with a few comments and highlights from me:

"Pope Francis told reporters “this first trip of mine is to meet young people, (to see them) … not as isolated young people but immersed in their social context, in society. Because when we isolate young people, we do them an injustice: we take away their ‘belonging.’”[Is this the last WYD then?]

Young people, the Holy Father said, “belong to a family, to a country, to a culture and a faith.” They represent the future of a people “because they have the energy;” but Pope Francis added, “the future is also the elderly because they are the custodians of the ‘wisdom of life’, the history, the home and the family." A people has no future - he continued - if it goes ahead without the strength of its youth and the elderly.

The Pope reflected on the global economic crisis and the possibility that young people may find themselves out of work. "We have the risk of having a generation that did not have work" said the Pope. And from work he noted, one derives "the dignity of the person" - "from earning his bread."

“Young people today are in crisis,” he said, “and we are used to this disposable culture: it happens all too often to the elderly.” But young jobless people are also getting caught up in this disposable culture. What we need today he said, is a "culture of inclusion, a culture of encounter." And this invitation to reporters: "I ask you to help me”- concluded the Pope - and work for the good of the society of young people and the elderly..."

In praise of anonymity

Let's hope the Pope's message about incorporating young people into the community more effectively are not drowned out by the babies!

We cannot, of course, expect a Pope in our era to live altogether outside the media glare.  Nonetheless, I'm not convinced that providing daily soundbites, White House daily media conference style, via informal homilies, as the Pope has been doing, is the way to go either.

These days many professional Catholics, clerics, religious and lay alike, seem to promote themselves as much as their message.  Creating a personal brand is, I guess, a way of cutting through the noise and helping people quickly find sources of advice they can trust.

But too much such focus tends to undermine, I think, the obligation we all have of critical thinking and assessment, of forming our own views based on the evidence and in the light of appropriate guidance.

And in this regard, speaking too frequently can surely be as unhelpful as not speaking at all.

Somehow we need, I think, to find ways to recover that long tradition of the Church that has praised those secret saints: the holy men and women who practice their sanctity in their homes and communities; and the supportive prayers of the cloistered for us all.

Dame Gertrude More (1606-1633), a descendant of St Thomas and one of the foundresses of the reformed English Congregation of Benedictine nuns on the continent in the early seventeenth century wrote some wonderful devotions on this subject.  The book from which this short extract comes was arranged after her death by Dom Augustine Baker, and subsequently re-edited by the Rev Henry Collins but is, alas, as far as I can discover, still out of print:

Hail, sweet Jesus, praise, honour and glory be to thee, O Christ, who for thirty years remained unknown and unnoticed, didst vouchsafe to be reputed the Son of Joseph the carpenter, and his wife, Mary.

Let thy grace pluck up, and utterly root up, out of the fiend of my soul, all pride and ambition.

O that I also may delight to be unnoticed, and to be reputed vile, and of no account...

But do tell me if you think I'm wrong on this...


Liam Ronan said...

My recollection of the New Testament is that Jesus eschewed crowds except on notable occasions such as when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount and when He multiplied the loaves and fishes. But the notoriety that arose from popular acclaim actually seemed to impede His Message and Mission.
He was acclaimed by the crowds on Palm Sunday too.
I am very confused by Pope Francis and his populism which seems wanting in doctrinal teaching to accompany it.
I pray for the Pope every day, and I encourage all to do likewise, but I confess I feel a great unease, a great unease.
- Liam Ronan -

Joe Potillor said...

I am also at unease about this cult of personality... but if he ends WYD, It will be the first time I've smiled during this pontificate, which has been dubbed "Liturgical Purgatory" :)

J Mason said...

Francis is a shameless exhibitionist. What message does he send by not wanting to be "pope-like"? He's modest and humble and the rest of them were extravagant and unapproachable? He's better than all the other Vicars of Christ? He knows better?

Liam Ronan said...

@J Mason,

A bit over the top, my Friend. For all our sakes pray for the Pope and endeavour to practice Christian Charity.


Anonymous said...

Just a thought. Where do all these young, out of work, people get the money to travel around the world to places like Rio?