Pope Francis (courtesy flickr user Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk)

An update from NPR about the recent papal encyclical confirmed my suspicions. The other night, at the end of the hourly newscast, listeners heard an excerpt from Lumen Fidei: “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.” On NPR. Something’s up with this pope.

This weekend, Equire magazine proclaimed, “It’s Time to Admit: Pope Francis Is Kind of Awesome“. Stephen Marche, a self-described atheist, highlights one of Francis’s first acts after being elected, paying his room bill:

Paying a bill is a small but vital gesture — it is the most ordinary way that normal people fulfill their obligations. It was the first in a series of moves that have established Pope Francis I as, by far, the coolest, most interesting and potentially revolutionary Pope in memory.

He goes on to contrast Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI:

These little gestures make a big difference. The Catholic Church may be the last major institution in the world that makes a coherent argument against total absorption in consumer capitalism. It was one thing to hear Benedict XVI talk about the poor — on a golden throne draped in ermine. It’s quite another to hear it from a guy on the minibus who pays his bills.

What’s attracting the attention of liberal news outlets and trendy atheists? I’d argue it’s Francis’s apparent humility, simplicity, and authenticity. There’s lots of garbage in the news everyday, individuals who swindle and exploit. Institutions, including the Catholic Church, that lie and deceive. Governments that can’t serve their people. So when a leader not only speaks up for the powerless, but acts in a way that shows he’s seriously committed to the cause, the world takes note. Is Pope Francis revolutionary? Will he remind the world that the Gospel is a message of hope for all? Can he help rehabilitate the Catholic Church? It might be too early to tell, but so far, it appears Esquire’s on to something.

Categories: Beliefs

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on BustedHalo.com, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.


  1. Stephen Early

    I am getting more irate at people who denigrate Pope Benedict. Let me be as blunt as I can, Pope Francis has been promoted above his ability and he is not half the man that Benedict was. He lacks Benedicts culture and the vision to ensure that the catholic restoration begun by Pope John Paul 11 was completed, Pope John XX111, who is soon to be canonised, is proof that a Pope can maintain all of the trappings of office (including the coronation, the red slippers, the ermine trimmed mozetta, the sedia gestoria) and still connect and be greatly loved by all the people, and still be a person of holiness, sanctity, humility and simplicity. Because the office of Pope is one of great dignity and all the external trappings are intended as a means of ensuring that the Pope is surrounded by great beauty and that this beauty points to an even greater divine beauty that the Pope is the bridge to as the Vicar of Christ,.
    Francis, with each step he takes, is slowly demeaning and undermining the dignity of the papacy.To that extent let me state in the clearest of ways that the College of Cardinals has made a mstake in electing this man and that he is slowly reducing the papacy to nothing more than the parish priest of the vatican.

  2. Allow me to disagree with Mr. Early in the strongest of terms. Pope Benedict XVI was a great pope, and I truly believe that his contribution to the clarity of doctrine will not go unnoticed by history. But, his greatness is not in contrast to that of Pope Francis. Rather, both reflect the beauty of the Church. Pope Francis is, by personal example, calling all people to service to the poor and to remember that our personal actions reflect our priorities. I can only pray that his example will rub off on my own bishop!

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