The Opportunity of Pope Francis’ Popularity, Aleteia Interview, November 10, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Interview with Aleteia on Pope Francis’ being the Top Name Searched on the Internet in the last year
Written Responses
November 11, 2013

Is this news surprising to you given who Pope Francis is? Is this news surprising given what the papacy is in general? 

I’m not surprised, but very happy, that more people are using the internet to get to know what Pope Francis is saying or doing than they are searching about Obamacare, the NSA and the IRS, Ed Snowden, Kate Middleton, and various politicians. It is a sign of fascination with who he is and the type of conspicuously Christian example he’s setting, which people yearn to see but don’t often notice in the Christians around them. It confirms, in a sense, the record numbers of those coming to papal audiences each week and the unprecedented amount of questions and positive comments I’m getting from strangers and faithful both.
It’s not surprising given what the papacy is but it is a little surprising given the way the secular media normally covers the papacy. Often the Pope makes the news only when he says or does something that the secular media considers controversial. Pope Francis, on the other hand, particularly by his gestures of embracing those the modern world normally shuns is getting the secular media to cover the good things that normally fall under the radar of most people.
My hope would be that interest in what the Pope is doing would regularly be of interest not only to the one out of six human beings who are Catholic but to all those who care about the leaven the Church’s mission always gives to the dough of the world. I’ll be interested to see, once the novelty of Pope Francis’ papal style wears off, whether people are continuing to seek to know more about what he’s saying and doing.
Why are so many people talking about Pope Francis? Is he being talked about for good or bad reasons?
I think the fundamental reason has less to do with Pope Francis the man and much more with what, or better Whom, he represents. People are searching for God, hungering for signs of his presence, his mercy, his love, his goodness in the world. Pope Francis lives, acts, speaks and embraces in a way that not only doesn’t contradict people’s expectations for God but are fully consistent with them. The interest in him is fundamentally positive.
Is Pope Francis’ celebrity a good thing or a bad thing for the Church?
In and of itself, his celebrity is a great opportunity, but whether it turns out to be a good or bad thing depends on whether people get beyond his celebrity status to ponder his words and example.
Many of those who are fascinated by Pope Francis readily say that the reason they “love” him is because they don’t think he judges them or is as interested as they believe most leaders of the Church are in getting them and the world to convert on those subjects where popular opinion and Church teaching aren’t aligned. But even a superficial following of Pope Francis reveals that the fundamental theme of his papacy is mercy. To talk about mercy implies the need for mercy. Pope Francis has called himself a sinner on whom the Lord has looked with mercy. The real litmus test of whether his celebrity turns out to be a good or a bad thing for the Church is whether all of us will recognize that we, too, are sinners under the merciful glance of the Lord and called to come to receive his forgiveness and share it with others. It’s not enough for people to like Pope Francis. It’s far more important that people follow his Christian example. The Pope is interested not in winning popularity contests, but in saving people in the great field hospital of the Church.