The Pope with a levitating child. via Flickr.
Perhaps you haven’t been following the comings and goings of Pope Francis the way I have, but the pontiff is currently in Rio for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day—a celebration that comes around every four years, like the Olympics, without all of the sweet acrobatics and exciting competition. Even the most intensely devoted Catholics would probably admit that the Church is not at the height of its popularity. Brazilians are particularly upset at the ridiculous amount of cash their government has spent on the Pope’s visit. Plus, as a result of ol’ Francis touching down in Rio, the city has had a few major protests and a bomb scare. But, despite all that, I say we should cut Francis a little bit of slack.
I was raised a Catholic. Even though my angelic sweet baby face once graced the cover of a small French Canadian magazine called La Famille Chrétienne (the Christian Family), I do not share my family’s beliefs. To be honest, I believe in extraterrestrials more than some kind of god. Most people I surround myself with would say the same. I must admit, however, that Pope Francis is gradually changing my perception of the Church as a boring pile of antiquated dog shit. The dude is rad.
As white smoke came out of the Sistine chapel in March, the Catholic world was faced with a relatively unknown figure—Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The newly-elected pontiff chose to become the first Pope Francis in papal history. The name Francis comes from Saint Francis of Assisi, the saint of the poor who really liked to frolic with birds and squirrels and parakeets. Pope Francis was immediately dubbed “the simple Pope,” and he was the first Pope to ever wash a woman’s feet on Holy Thursday (oh, and she wasn’t just any woman—she was a Muslim inmate). Francis also decided not to move into the papal palace, which he deemed too fancy for his simple lifestyle. Unlike his predecessors, who liked to dress like fabulous queens in gold Christian Dior petticoats, Francis rocks a simple, white gown paired with a rosary. The guy knows he’s a baller at heart and doesn’t need to compensate with extravagant designer papal gowns. As the rap adage goes, it ain’t trickin’ if you got it.
But where Francis really differs from previous Popes is in his understanding of the need to get in with youth culture. That’s why my main man in Vatican City has decided to take social media by storm. Pope Benedict shocked the world when he became the first tweeting Pope in history, but his Twitter game was sparse and crappy. In contrast, Francis’s approach to social media brings a breath of fresh air to papal communication.
One of Francis’ first tweets referred to this week’s WYD. Several subsequent tweets were directly addressed to young people, stressing the need for them to follow their dreams, as big as they may be. I’ll admit that Francis could make better use of hashtags in order to get his message across more efficiently. I’m thinking #dreamBig or #StartedFromTheBottom or even last year’s trendy Drake-ism #YOLO would have been appropriate here. I know he’ll get his tweetiquette right eventually. And even if he doesn't, the guy is offering any of his followers a "get out of Purgatory free" card, which is truly next level. With an offer that good, you really have no choice but to have faith in @Pontifex.
Then there’s Pope Francis’s Facebook page, which is a veritable goldmine for anyone looking to get a good look at his godly smile and classy swagger. They even have Catholic memes on there, which don't make a lot of sense to me, but hey! They're probably funny to someone.
Catholic humour... via the Catholic Memes Facebook page.
If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of everyone’s favorite pontiff (sorry Jean-Paul II—you had a good run), so I would definitely recommend that you get those praying hands of yours all over the Pope App. This is where Francis really innovates with the most comprehensive source of everything papal. You can stream live events attended by Francis, browse through pictures, and read his sermons. Users even have access to webcams placed around Vatican City. That way, Pope fanatics around the world can see the sun set over St-Peter’s Basilica, knowing that somewhere, Francis, in his white silky gown, is staring at the same magical view. Or you can also spend hours creeping on JP II’s tomb… but that’s a little freaky for my tastes.
My favorite section of the Pope App has got to be the video library. Francis looks like a total rockstar. He’s waving back at you and smiling ‘cause he knows just how effortlessly rad he is. Banners that read “Angelus Domini, Every Sunday at Noon” make you forget it’s Sunday mass he’s hosting. Instead, it makes you want to tune in for the best Sunday talk show in the world.
All of this might be too much to take for some of you who would rather scrape the inside of your mouths with a rusty knife than spend any amount of time catching up on the goings on of Catholicism, but c’mon, this guy is trying really hard. And somehow it’s not coming off as forced or creepy. This is a big step forward for a desperately out-of-touch institution, so even if you’re an atheist, remember, radness is universal, and Mr. Francis has it oozing out of his simple pearl beads.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @smvoyer