By Bishop Kevin J. Farrell
There can be no doubt that Pope Francis has changed the public’s perception of the Catholic Church and reshaped the papacy in the few short months since his election. Publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and The Dallas Morning News have all taken note of this pope’s engaging style.
He has become a prominent figure on a regular basis on network news programs. On social media, he is a favorite. On Twitter, Catholic News Service reports he is “the most influential world leader” with the highest number of retweets (forwarded tweets) worldwide. His Twitter account, @pontifex, has 7.2 million followers, second only to President Obama among world leaders, but far exceeding the president in retweets.
Many are responding to his openness and transparency, his simplicity and humility and his kindness and compassion. He has called on bishops and priests to follow his example. In addressing the Papal Nuncios (Papal Ambassadors), who are influential on the appointment of bishops, he reminded them that bishops should be “pastors not princes.” He refers to himself as the Bishop of Rome, and wears a plain white cassock rather than using more princely titles and vestments available to him. As pope, he is the Chief Pastor and embraces his pastoral functions with enthusiasm, even celebrating a public Mass and preaching each day at St. Martha residence where he lives in the Vatican.
Much to the chagrin of his security personnel, he has rejected the armored Popemobile in favor of open vehicles that enable him to reach out to crowds and make frequent stops to bless children or handicapped people. Many in the Vatican and around the world have been surprised at receiving a personal phone call from Pope Francis who handles calls himself rather than through a secretary.
It remains to be seen where he will take the Barque of Peter, but he certainly has scraped off a few barnacles and shaken up some crew members.