Gay is Okay and Atheists Go to Heaven: Is Francis the Rock Star Pope?
Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Technically Sunday was World Youth Day, but you may as well have dubbed it Pope-a-palooza 2013. More than a million people gathered on Brazil’s Copacabana beach, nuns and bikini-suit clad revellers frolicking side by side in the water and singing the praises – literally – of the pontiff at the centre of it all. It seems Pope Francis may be re-writing the papacy, just as Barry Manilow may have to re-write the lyrics to his signature tune:
At the Copa, Copacabana, the hottest spot south of the Vatican
Prayers and passion were always the fashion
At the Copa, they fell in love….
Pope Francis’ weeklong Brazilian pilgrimage, culminating with World Youth Day, saw three million faithful turn out across various cities and locales. They threw gifts, flowers and, yes, even small children into the pope’s lap. The 76-year-old pontiff drove around in a Fiat with the windows down, sipped tea offered by fans, tried on a Brazilian tribal headdress, visited with the poor and implored regular folk to shake up the Church.
When the widely adored Pope John Paul II passed away, he left a big white hat to fill. Benedict XVI, proved a little quieter than his predecessor, more subdued, very traditional, and against the idea, for example, of gay men becoming priests.
When Benedict stepped aside earlier this year, the opportunity arose for a papal youth injection. And what happened? The College of Cardinals elected a nearly 80-year-old man with one lung and little desire to be pope.
Yet he took the name of St. Francis of Assisi and promised to serve the poor, and any question of the pope’s vitality or willingness to perform his papal duties was quashed with the Brazil trip. The pilgrimage marked Francis’ first international journey as head of the Catholic Church – an appropriate destination considering the Argentinian is also the first pontiff to hail from the Americas – and could telegraph the frenzy folks are in for when the pope travels to other parts of the world.
By showing a willingness to think more outside the box than most pontiffs, Francis earned the “Rock Star” mantle largely for beginning the process of re-invigorating a troubled Catholic Church that at times appears painfully out of touch with the 21st century world. Indeed if he has to be pope, he’s going to do it his way.
Sure, in the big picture Francis’ declarations amount to baby steps, given the answer is still “no” to female priests (despite Francis’ call for greater involvement of women in the church), gay marriage, abortion, and other hot-button issues, as well as sex abuse cases that date back to John Paul’s pontificate that need to be addressed and resolved (on that note, he acknowledged, almost apologetically, those who “have lost their faith in the church, or even in God, because of the lack of consistency of Christians and ministers of the gospel.”).
When the subject of the youth protesting his visit came up, Francis explained: “The young person is essentially a non-conformist, and this is very beautiful … It is necessary to listen to young people, give them places to express themselves and to be careful that they aren’t manipulated.”
Then there’s Bill Maher, famously atheist and now a staunch believer that Francis is, in fact, one too: “He said this week…the Lord has redeemed all of us, not just Catholics, even the atheists … And then of course — it’s funny because just like politics, the hierarchy at the Vatican was like, ‘What the f-ck did this guy —?’ You could almost see them preparing the poison. Luckily we’ve got a spare pope.”