ROME — It’s official, but no big surprise: Pope Francis is now the most-talked-about person on Facebook, according to information released Dec. 10 by the social media giant.
Pope Francis took the top spot, followed closely by Royal Baby George.
For the first time in a while, I'm feeling optimistic about the direction of the Catholic church's hierarchy in general and about the office of the papacy in particular. Many authors have written about the plethora of ways in which Pope Francis is hitting the "restart" button for a church so devastated by sexual and financial corruption.
Forgotten, however, is the fact that Pope Benedict XVI had to resign for this breath of fresh air to occur. The pope emeritus deserves recognition for his courageous and humble decision and action. Paradoxically, the conservative pope's nontraditional decision to resign has paved the way for the current pope to begin to mend the broken church structures that have allowed corruption to continue unchecked.
For more than three decades, the Vatican of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI operated on a version of the conservative maxim, “No enemies to the right.”
While left-wing theologians were silenced and liberal-to-moderate bishops were shunted aside in favor of hard-liners, liturgical traditionalists and cultural conservatives were diligently courted and given direct access to the apostolic palace.
But in a few short months, Pope Francis has upended that dynamic, alienating many on the Catholic right by refusing to play favorites and ignoring their preferred agenda items even as he stressed the kind of social justice issues that are near and dear to progressives.
In message published on Friday, Pope Francis took the rare step of personally expressing his “esteem and friendship” to the world’s Muslims as they prepare to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast.
While it is a long-established Vatican practice to send messages to the world’s religious leaders on their major holy days, those greetings are usually signed by the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue.
In his message, Francis explains that in the first year of his papacy he wanted to personally greet Muslims, “especially those who are religious leaders.”
Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had fraught relations with Muslims. In a 2006 speech he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Muhammad had only brought “evil and inhuman” things to the world, sparking a worldwide crisis in Christian-Muslim relations.
Pope Francis spent Tuesday resting following his arrival here in his first international trip as pope during which his car was mobbed by throngs of well-wishers who excitedly closed in on his convoy and prevented the pontiff from reaching his reception ceremony on time.
His arrival animated tens of thousands of young Catholics cramming the Rio city center, as they waved flags, chanted slogans, and swarmed the four-door Fiat he was riding in.
“It was so amazing when he was selected, we just couldn’t believe it. We cried and hugged one another,” Alicia Velazquez said. “I personally want to see if he’s still the same man as simple and humble whom we all knew. I have faith that he’s remained the same.”
Francis’ driver missed lanes that had been cleared on a boulevard, taking the car down a lane that was not lined with fencing and with no uniformed police in sight to control crowds.
Dozens of Vatican and Brazilian plain-clothes security officials had trouble keeping the crowds back but it did not appear to bother Francis. The bulletproof popemobile was left in Rome.
Francis rolled down his back-seat window, waved to the crowd, and touched those who reached inside. He kissed a baby a woman handed to him.
As a millennia-old institution, the Vatican is accustomed to change at a glacial pace. But in the eyes of many outside the church — and even of some within it — the arrival of Pope Francis on the throne of St. Peter seems to have started nothing short of a revolution.
Even Francis himself, in his speech to Rome’s diocese on Monday, said that Christians not only can, but should, be “revolutionaries.”
Now, 100 days into his pontificate, a debate is brewing in Rome over whether Francis has set a distinctly different course from his predecessor, or whether the visible differences in style and personality between Francis and Benedict XVI mask a deeper theological and ideological continuity.
Breaking with another centuries-old tradition established by his predecessors, Pope Francis will remain in Rome during the summer and endure the usually stifling heat of the Eternal City.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, announced on Thursday that the pope will not move to the papal villa of Castel Gandolfo, where previous popes usually spent at least part of the summer.
The villa, boasting expansive gardens, a working farm, and a private helipad, was a favorite retreat of Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, who used to spend three months there, from early July to the end of September.
Is Pope Francis endorsing heresy?
It might look that way from the eye-catching headlines this week that made it appear everyone was bound for heaven — “even atheists!” — thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross.
The passage that prompted the reports came from Francis’ brief homily at the informal morning Mass that he celebrates in the chapel at the Vatican guesthouse.
Speaking on Wednesday, Francis said that as human beings created in the image of God, everyone has a “duty to do good.”
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists,” he said, answering his own query. “Everyone! And this blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”
Cue the jaw dropping and head scratching. Atheists were pleasantly surprised, conservative Catholics were dazed and confused, and the pope’s comments raced around the Internet; for a while they were the second-most shared piece on Reddit.
So was Francis preaching a form of “universalism?" That is the unorthodox teaching that says, essentially, that all faiths are equal and all are going to heaven, especially if you are nice to people here on earth. It’s also a heresy that Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, spent a career quashing every time he thought he thought he spied a hint of it in some theologian’s writings.
In his two months as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis has captured the imagination not only of his own flock, but that of the world at large.
Many of us, Catholic or not, seem to hang on his every word both for spiritual guidance and clues to the personality of the man we collectively are getting to know as perhaps the most recognizable Christian on the planet.
Two new books offer further insights into the heart and mind of the former Jorge Bergoglio through his own words. Both are fascinating reads for papal watchers and news junkies alike, painting a vivid portrait of the man, the leader, and the humble follower of Christ.
Pope Francis on Friday met with Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, an encounter that brought the number of popes within the Vatican walls to three this week.
Benedict XVI, the emeritus pope, returned to the Vatican on May 2, two months after his resignation, while Tawadros is only the second Coptic pope to visit the Vatican, after the historic visit of Pope Shenouda III to Pope Paul VI in 1973.
Tawadros — on his first foreign trip since he was elected in November — is staying at the Vatican’s guesthouse where Pope Francis is also living. Benedict is now living in a revamped convent a 5-minute walk away, but there were no plans for the two men to meet.