It’s been 100 days since Pope Francis became the first non-European pontiff since the eighth century, and the man hasn’t disappointed. We knew Pope Francis wasn’t going to earn a nickname like his immediate predecessor, who was known as the Prada Pope for his indulgent taste. As the former archbishop of Argentina, Pope Francis chose a simple apartment and gave up a limousine for the bus.
Although the new pope is known to be conservative on social issues, he has nonetheless done some surprising things that are earning him kudos even among skeptics. Consider the following:
1. He picked a great name
Once Jorge Mario Bergoglio cinched the papal conclave's vote for new pope, it was time for him to announce his new name. Of all the regal papal names to choose from, he opted for Francis. The name pays tribute to St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th-century Catholic friar who showed a great love for animals — he called birds "his sisters” — and the environment. As the patron saint of animals and the environment, St. Francis was also beloved for his dedication to poverty and reform. Not a bad namesake.
2. He has shunned the lavish perks
As the most powerful symbol of the Catholic Church, there are many lavish appointments at Pope Francis’ disposal, least of which is the opulent 12-plus-room papal apartment on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace. But instead, given that he has no personal household staff (practically unheard of in his business), he has opted to live in a small studio in a Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta. (We figured something was up when he insisted on paying his own hotel bill for his stay during the inauguration mass before he had his papal digs.)
3. He speaks for the trees
Like the Lorax in a cassock, Pope Francis advocates for the environment. And in fact, during his inaugural homily on March 18 in St. Peter's Square, the environment received much attention from the modern-day St. Francis of Assisi. Among other pleas for the environment in his speech, Pope Francis said, "I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
4. He blessed a bunch of bikers<
Leather-clad bikers and the pope? Say what? When a rally of 35,000 Harley-Davidson riders from around the world descended upon St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Pope Francis blessed the lot of them and laid his hands on a disabled boy accompanied by one of motorcyclists. Some riders decorated their bikes with flags imprinted with Francis’ smiling mug; Harley-Davidson gave Pope Francis two white Harleys to use in the Vatican police force.
5. He's given good tweets
The image of a tweeting Pope is good enough on its own, but Pope Francis actually uses social media to great effect. Beyond ecclesiastic clichés, he has delivered some pretty pithy posts in the allotted 140 characters, like the following few which address corporate greed and waste.
My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 2, 2013
Consumerism has accustomed us to waste. But throwing food away is like stealing it from the poor and hungry.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 7, 2013
With the “culture of waste”, human life is no longer considered the primary value to be respected and protected.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 9, 2013
6. He made atheists swoon
OK, maybe not swoon, per se, but last month something strange happened: atheists across social media platforms were sharing Pope Francis' quotes … accompanied by phrases of praise. In what was surely a first, a pope said that atheists could be redeemed.
While delivering a homily inspired by the Gospel of Mark, Pope Francis said:
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: We will meet one another there.
Jaw-dropping ensued ... and a Vatican spokesman quickly intervened and backtracked, but the wise words live on.
7. He is hands-on
Pope Francis loves to mix with the huge crowds in St. Peter's Square; he even shakes hands and kisses babies like a good politician. Reports say that his public affection is driving his security detail crazy. He frequently celebrates public mass and opts for walking when his security team wants him to ride. And he has gone so far so to trade in the bulletproof-glass Popemobile that has been in use since 1981, and instead rides in an open-air white Mercedes jeep, frequently getting out to greet the crowds.
Next, we’re hoping he takes to one of those shiny white motorcycles presented to him by Harley Davidson.
Related Pope Francis stories on MNN:
- Pope says culture of food waste is like stealing from the poor
- Hope and change: Will new pontiff take up global warming cause?