Saturday, April 26, 2014

"The Francis Effect" strong in Italy: "He never ceases to amaze us"

Sunday, April 20
The number one boys name in Italy is currently Francesco, and it’s no coincidence that this is the same name that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio adopted when he became pope in March of 2013. For the most part, Lucy and I find the Italians that we meet are extremely happy with their new pontiff. True, the Holy Father is head of the Catholic Church for the entire world, but Italians have always been rather possessive about the pope, since the Vatican is in Rome and at least 90 percent of the popes have been Italian.

Pope Francis greets the public after Easter Mass in Rome April 22.
Photo courtesy of Albert Yu.
Of course they like the fact that he speaks Italian and that his parents were from Italy, but their fondness for Pope Francis goes far beyond nationalism. Opinioni, a political polling company, reported recently that more than four in five Italians had a “positive” or “extremely positive” opinion of the new pope. Italy’s Center for Studies on New Religions reported that around half of the 250 priests it surveyed reported a significant rise in church attendance since Francis took office. The phenomenon has been dubbed by the media “The Francis Effect.”

“He has been able to get into the hearts of many people, even those who are not Catholic,” said Launa Raveggi, an Italian woman I see regularly during my afternoons of research at the parish archives in Pescia. “He has a great ability to communicate.

His humble lifestyle, compassion for the poor and willingness to speak out against the excesses of the rich, including other church officials, are often cited as reasons for his popularity. He was noted for his simple lifestyle while archbishop of Buenos Aires, and he has since refused the opulent trappings that usually come with his position. In Argentina, he gave up his chauffeur and took the bus to work, and as pope, he refuses to use the famous “Popemobile,” a Mercedes-Benz, choosing instead to travel in a 30-year-old Renault. He doesn’t wear glitzy gold or rich velvet robes; his papal wardrobe often consists of sensible black shoes and a white cassock so thin you can see his black trousers through it. He resides in a small suite in the guesthouse rather than the luxurious papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace in Rome.

The Italian economy has not yet recovered from the recent recession, and many Italians often tell me their lives have been changed because of the current economic “crisis.” A pope who lives simply, like many Italians have traditionally done, is someone to whom they can relate. “My wife and I think
that his way of being humble has an immense media power,” said Massimiliano Caniparola, an Italian friend of many years. “The gestures he has done and continues to do bring people closer to the Church.”

I didn’t realize how important his simple lifestyle was to the Italian people until I saw a headline in an Italian paper stating that the pope uses a normal toilet like everyone else. It could be translated as “He never ceases to amaze us: The pope pees just like all of us do. Even in the bathroom, the pope gives us a lesson.”

Of course his leadership is admired elsewhere in the world as well. American Catholics think the church has benefited from his leadership. A CBS News pool revealed that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) say he has helped the church, while 27 percent describe his leadership as mixed. Not a single Catholic in the poll said Pope Francis’ leadership has hurt the church. In contrast, Pope Benedict, who stepped down last year, fared much worse in the CBS polls; 52 percent of Catholics viewed his leadership as mixed; only 26 percent said he helped the church.

I also asked Andrea Salvoni, a rare Italian Protestant who attends the Valdese church with us in Lucca for his opinion. “Would four words be enough?” he said. “Peccato che sia Catholic (It’s a pity that he’s Catholic).”

1 comment:

  1. Such a good, humble caring example for all Christians


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