Pope Francis will not be your superhero

Since his appointment as leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has garnered fans and international attention for his good deeds. But perhaps the attention is getting out of hand. Pope Francis has called for the world to stop treating him as a celebrity.

So why do we obsess over this Pope? As it turns out, it is difficult not to. Colloquially deemed the “Bat-Pope,” Francis is a powerful leader who spends his nights dressing in average priestly clothes and sneaking out to give food to the hungry. He does not just preach messages of love and outreach – he lives them. In a world full of leaders and politicians who abuse their power or act hypocritically, it is refreshing to find someone who means every word that he says and lives it to the fullest.

For example, Pope Francis takes “love thy neighbor as thyself” to a new level. When encountering a man heavily disfigured by neurofibromatosis, the Pope embraced him without questioning if the man’s disease was contagious. Another example occurred during a speech in St. Peter’s Square when a child sprinted to the stage Pope Francis was addressing from and hugged his leg. Some observers moved to entice the little boy away with candy, but the Pope let him stay. Additionally, he invited a 17-year-old boy with Down syndrome to ride with him in the “popemobile”.

What’s more, Francis has maintained the humility that initially made him famous. When given the chance to live in the grandeur of the Papal Palace, he chose instead to live in the guesthouse and take the bus with other priests. He has criticized the Vatican for its spending sprees and prefers simpler clothing. He has even auctioned off his own motorcycle in order to financially support a hostel for the homeless. Beyond these are more deeds that he often tries to perform in secret, as the intention is more important than any attention these actions could gain.

Finally, Francis is inclusive to those who may have felt excluded or ignored by the church. To all the atheists who have felt dismissed as “bad” for not being religious, Pope Francis has said that they are good if they do good deeds. For homosexuals, he explained in a now-famous statement that “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” He has even written personal letters and called rape victims to remind them that “you are not alone.” For someone who could easily fall out of touch with the needs of the people and not be criticized for it, Pope Francis pursues his mission to help them, which only encourages his fans.

So if it seems that everyone loves Pope Francis, why is he concerned that people treat him like a rock star? Personally, I wonder if he is worried that this much attention will detract from his message. Indeed, as a religious leader, he is expected to shepherd his followers in their faith, not to be their superhero.

Additionally, his actions may only inspire expectations for his Papacy that are simply impossible to fulfill. He has already broken barriers, washing the feet of women and Muslims, working to protect the Amazon rainforest and criticizing the global financial system. He has also taken action to prevent child abuse, an issue that has plagued the Catholic Church with scandal. If he has done this much already, it is not difficult to see the public increasing their expectations for his future actions.

In the end, Pope Francis is only human, which is exactly why we love him. If people can keep his role in perspective, I think the balance will be stable. We can continue to learn from his good deeds and yet remember that he is not the one who should be receiving our worship. It is one thing to esteem, but another to idolize. While we should not make Francis our hero, we can allow ourselves to be inspired by his loving example. Peace be with you, “Bishop of Rome”.

Julia Pilkington ’17 pilkingt@stolaf.edu is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in English and theater.

GRAPHIC CREDIT: EMMA JOHNSON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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