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Is Pope Francis the Catholic Princess Diana?
Taking a page from Princess Diana's playbook, Pope Francis has taken the papacy into the streets.
July 14th, 2013
12:25 AM ET

Is Pope Francis the Catholic Princess Diana?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN)–It was a shipwreck of African migrants off the coast of Lampedusa, a small island in the Mediterranean, that spurred Pope Francis into action.

In the past 18 months more than 500 people have died, or gone missing at sea, trying to escape Africa. The world barely noticed.

Standing on Lampedusa on Monday, Francis prayed for the victims and cast a wreath in the water to commemorate the dead. More importantly, he drew attention to the desperate plight of migrants, in his country and around the world.

“We have fallen into a globalization of indifference,” Francis said, as he stood near an altar made from the salvage of shipwrecks.

The pope wore purple – a color that symbolizes penance in Catholicism - and prayed that world leaders who ignored the plight of migrants might be forgiven.

“The fact he wore purple and asking for forgiveness was very powerful,” Christopher M. Bellitto a church historian and Associate Professor at Kean University said.

“This is a guy that socks you in the gut and touches your heart.”

It was his first trip outside of Rome since Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected in March as the head of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. And it showed how quickly he is learning to shine the megawatt spotlight of his popular papacy on issues dear to his heart.

There are obvious differences between a Catholic pontiff and a princess.

But watching Francis’ first few months in office, it’s hard not to notice that he seems to have taken a page from the late Princess Diana’s playbook.

The Princess of Wales knew where she went, the media followed. Her activism brought global attention to homelessness, HIV/AIDs, and, most prominently, land mines.

Just as Diana ventured far from Buckingham Palace to wrap her arms around landmine victims in Africa and elsewhere, Pope Francis has taken the papacy out of the the Sistine Chapel and into the streets.

Through acts such as embracing a child with cerebral palsy, washing the feet of juvenile delinquents and celebrating Mass on a migrant island, Francis is using the power of his celebrity to bring media attention to dark forgotten corners of the world.

Spiritual life requires more than meditating and reading books, Francis says. Catholics and other people of faith don’t need a “refresher course” to “touch the living God,” he said.

“All we have to do is go out onto the street.”

Taking it to the Streets

On the streets of Lampedusa the pope scaled back on the pomp
to be with the migrants, many of whom were Muslim.

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Canadian priest close to the Vatican, said the pope had wanted to go to Lampedusa with just a small group, flying commercial.

“There was a simplicity to this that is not normally given to papal visits.”

But challenging messages come with the pope’s simple style.

While Francis was praying at the harbor, a tweet was sent from his @Pontifex account: “We pray for a heart which will embrace immigrants. God will judge us upon how we have treated the most needy.”

The tweet was a 140-character shot across the bow at global leaders wrestling with immigration, most notably in Europe and the United States, said Rosica.

“I think he was giving a very clear signal to many countries, including the United States, about its outreach to refugees and all the blocks that are put it,” Rosica said. “He’s not just speaking as Jorge Bergoglio; he’s speaking as the leader of the Catholic Church addressing the world.”

The world has taken notice.

Italian Vanity Fair named him “Man of the Year” this month in a cover story calling him “Pope Courage.” In the article, rock star Elton John called Francis “a miracle of humility in a era of vanity.”

John hasn’t been the only non-Catholic to sing the pope’s praises.

“It’s time to admit it; Pope Francis is kind of Awesome,” Stephen Marche, an atheist, wrote in Esquire Magazine’s website last week.

Pilgrims pack St. Peter’s Square when Francis delivers his Sunday speeches. The crowds are noticeably larger than his predecessor Pope Benedict had been drawing. Twice as large, by some accounts in Rome.

Despite his popularity, Francis continues to live in at Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican hotel, instead of the opulent papal apartment. He prefers to drive through St. Peter’s Square to greet the masses in an open-topped Jeep instead of the bulletproof bubble.

Last week he said that priests shouldn’t drive fancy cars. After his speech, Francis visited the Vatican garage to inspect his own fleet, according to The Associated Press.

During Mass on July 3 at Casa Santa Marta Francis explained why he has been so hands-on, so insistent on greeting the disabled, the poor, the refugee, and the prisoner.

"The body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked, because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today,” he said.

Setting up charities to solve society’s problems is not enough, he said. Catholics and other believers have to get their hands dirty.

“We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally.”

Big preparations for Brazil

World Youth Day, which will be held in Brazil later this month, has the potential to show the full measure of the new pope’s popularity.

Brazil is home to the world’s largest Catholic population, but in the past 10 years the church has been steadily losing ground to evangelical churches.
Could the first Latin-American pope’s homecoming reverse that longterm trend?

Some 60,000 volunteers have signed up to help for the weeklong pilgrimage the week of July 22, 2013.

Events include an opening Mass on Copacabana beach for pilgrims, Catholic DJs spinning records at a beach festival, and a final Mass that is open to the public at a giant field west of the city.

Benjamin Paz Vernal, director of communications for World Youth Day communications said for the week they have ordered 4 million hosts for Holy Communion.

Paz Vernal said site where the final Mass will be held is 2 1/2 times bigger than that of the last World Youth Day in 2011. At that Mass, Spain’s National Police estimated the crowd was 1.5 million people.

The pope will be busy in Brazil: and it’s a typical itinerary for Francis.

He will visit a drug rehabilitation hospital, a Marian shrine, hear confessions from young inmates, and tour a slum in Rio de Janiero that the Vatican notes was “recently pacified.”

But what everyone will be watching is what is not what on the itinerary from a pope who seems to relish improvisation.

“I’ve utterly given up trying to figure out what he’s going to do,” said the Rev. Paddy Gilger a newly ordained Jesuit priest who runs the website “The Jesuit Post.”

In Francis he sees a pope unafraid to push the boundaries and keep his minders – as well as the media - on their toes.

“It’s very Jesuit: whatever it takes,” Gilger said. “He’s unafraid to use any tool he can to share the gospel. If it wasn’t so sincere it’d be very manipulative.”

Back to the clown Masses?

Francis’ style is not without critics, most notably in his approach to worship.

When he first stepped out on the balcony to meet the world as pope, Francis wore a simple iron cross instead of one made from gold. The throne of St. Peter has literally been stripped of its jewels and the brocaded papal cape left with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In its place: a simple white cassock.

“Benedict, in his relatively short papacy of eight years, worked very hard to bring back a lot of things that were identified with Catholicism. With the Vatican it was splendor, it was dignity,” Kenneth Wolfe a writer for traditionalist Catholic publications such as Rorate Caeli.

“Francis is more of a … American Protestant,” he said with a sigh. “Not in beliefs but in demeanor and approach to religion. Dressing as one of the people.”

The pope’s trip to Lampedusa was charitable, Wolfe said, but the Mass there summed up what Wolfe dislikes about Francis.

“The Mass was pretty much a joke. I mean to have an altar made out of a boat, a wooded chalice, a lectern that had a ship’s steering wheel on it and altar girls?” he said. “It resembles the clown Masses of the 1960s. It’s not a serious way to present liturgy.”

After the Second Vatican Council, Latin was dropped from the Masses in favor of local languages, opening the door for a host of new hymns and practices, some of which traditionalists derisively refer to as “clown Masses.”

And, as Wolfe notes, it also opened the door for Masses that featured actual clowns.

“I would be lying if I said I hadn’t seen a little disgruntledness,” Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with the Catholic Association said about the response to Pope Francis.

But the distaste is limited and mostly concerns matters of liturgy, according to McGuire.

“The overwhelming response has been positive,” she said.

The path forward

When he returns to the Vatican after World Youth Day, the new pope will finally have some down time, the Vatican said.

But Francis still has an ambitious to-do list – and no one expects the 76-year-old to slow down.

In fact, he’s already pledged to reform everything from the Vatican bank to the Curia, the professional staff at the Vatican.

Monsignor Kevin Irwin, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, offered some insight into why the pope has been so busy.

“The clock is ticking. He’s got one lung. You’d better do it now.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Pope Francis • Vatican

soundoff (523 Responses)
  1. Akira

    Hey! We now can reply to replies! Yay!

    July 14, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  2. Gloria

    How can we compare a Royal Princess with a God's Servant? Both Diana and Francisco, have touched deeply our hearts, both blessed by God.

    July 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  3. Supercatholic

    I suppose it's ok to have a crazy pope every 700 years or so.

    July 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
  4. nvbeif

    Francis is the devil incarnate. A true wolf in sheeps clothing.

    July 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  5. nvbeif

    The Catholic Church, led by Francis, discriminates against women by keeping them out of leadership positions. So no, this dirtbag is no Princess Di.

    July 14, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Not to mention trying to force them to have children the don't want, including carrying the fetus of a rapist if they think the fertilized egg managed to divide into eight cells.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      Yes, until the RCC promotes the use of birth control they are part of the problem instead of the solution.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      Where did they ever say anything about 8 cells ?
      They say "conception", and "fertilization", but 99.999999999 % of them don't even know what that actually means.

      July 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  6. Patines

    Crap!

    July 14, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  7. Oh come on

    Nobody has a joke about them both wearing a purple dress?

    July 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  8. faith

    Rodents for Romney
    Jebus was a mythical conflation of a number of messiah figures from around 50BCE to 75 CE. There were many Jebuses,

    your proof, please

    July 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Polonius

      When you can prove that there was even one Jesus based on actual evidence, then I'm sure he will answer your question.

      Why do Christians demand evidence when they adamantly avoid providing any?

      July 14, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • FYI

      @faith,

      Here's just one:

      "In the months during which Vespasian was waiting at Alexandria for the periodical return of the summer gales and settled weather at sea, many wonders occurred which seemed to point him out as the object of the favour of heaven and of the partiality of the Gods. One of the common people of Alexandria, well known for his blindness, threw himself at the Emperor's knees, and implored him with groans to heal his infirmity. This he did by the advice of the God Serapis, whom this nation, devoted as it is to many superst'itions, worships more than any other divinity. He begged Vespasian that he would deign to moisten his cheeks and eye-balls with his spittle. Another with a diseased hand, at the counsel of the same God, prayed that the limb might feet the print of a Caesar's foot. At first Vespasian ridiculed and repulsed them. They persisted; and he, though on the one hand he feared the scandal of a fruitless attempt, yet, on the other, was induced by the entreaties of the men and by the language of his flatterers to hope for success. At last he ordered that the opinion of physicians should be taken, as to whether such blindness and infirmity were within the reach of human skill. They discussed the matter from different points of view. 'In the one case,' they said, 'the faculty of sight was not wholly destroyed, and might return, if the obstacies were removed; in the other case, the limb, which had fallen into a diseased condition, might be restored, if a healing influence were applied; such, perhaps, might be the pleasure of the Gods, and the Emperor might be chosen to be the minister of the divine will; at any rate, all the glory of a successful remedy would be Caesar's, while the ridicule of failure would fall on the sufferers.' And so Vespasian, supposing that all things were possible to his good fortune, and that nothing was any longer past belief, with a joyful countenance, amid the intense expectation of the mult'itude of bystanders, accomplished what was required. The hand was instantly restored to its use, and the light of day again shone upon the blind. Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood." (Tacitus -The Histories, 4:81)

      July 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      Here's more proof than you can handle.
      Now all you have to do is prove he did exist.
      I await your proof.

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX4LvKvIWJw&w=640&h=390]

      July 14, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  9. A. S. Mathew

    Thank God for Pope Francis who is a true follower of JESUS CHRIST in the practical life. Millions of Christians of all denominations are brainwashed in a religion of simple formal prayers, but the practical Christianity is serving the helpless-feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. What JESUS did in his short earthly ministry of 3.5 years? He healed the sick-fed the hungry and preached the good news. We can't heal the sick as JESUS did, but when we take care of a sick person and pay the medical bill, then we are doing the real ministry. How, we try to spend money for our pleasure in food and clothings while people are hungry in front of us? How we can claim as followers of Christ without looking after the
    suffering world?

    July 14, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      Jesus did all that as a toddler?

      July 14, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Really now

      Interesting how Jesus wasted the first 29.5 years of his life doing nothing.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      All the messiahs from his time ran around doing miracles. What was so special about him again ?

      July 14, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • The Rodent Revolution is ON!!!! Death to the human fascists that feed upon the rodents!

      When Bippy does his zombie resurrection, the acorny Armageddon will be on!

      July 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • lionlylamb2013

      Hello and a good afternoon to you A.S. Mathew

      True Christian Idealists are worthy their weightiness but the aristocratic Christians are held to a higher demand...

      July 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Better yet, have no children and leave your estate to charity.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  10. Karyn Miller

    "The Mass was pretty much a joke. I mean to have an altar made out of a boat, a wooded chalice, a lectern that had a ship’s steering wheel on it and altar girls?” he said. “It resembles the clown Masses of the 1960s. It’s not a serious way to present liturgy.”

    I disagree. When early Christians celebrated Mass in the catacombs on the tombs of the martyrs, was it a "clown Mass"? These were possibly the wreckage of boats on which refugees died and were joined with God. What better place to celebrate. Think of them as relics.

    July 14, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Not really

      I guess they ignored the sermon on the mount too, where Jesus instructs his followers to go alone to a private closet. No treasure for them either.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  11. huskiemom

    Pope Francis isn't being like Princess Diana at all: he's is being Christ-like. Pope Francis isn't a whimpering, anorexic, adulteress. Pope Francis is a good man, priest, Cardinal and now Pope. He is well respected by everyone.

    As far as atheist are concerned: No one has time for you. You're lost souls who only listen to yourselves and you are wrong! Bill Maher is your high man and he is a nobody.

    July 14, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      Well Fransis isn't respected by me. If he removes Mahoney and all the others that covered for child molesters than I will respect him.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • A. S. Mathew

      Sir, GOD is going to bring a greater spiritual awakening through Pope Francis. He is greatly honored not only by the rich and poor of the Catholic Church, but believers of all other Christian denominations are looking to him as a real and practical Christian; besides even non-Christians are greatly touched by his humility and compassion for the hungry world. i am not a Catholic
      believer but a non-denominational Christian believer and love the humanity. I had been to the slums to conduct medical
      camps in my homeland India, and while serving those most helpless people and when I put hands on their heads and prayed without eating anything for more than 8 hours, I felt the real joy of spiritual life and worship of the living GOD. When the Christians of all denominations are going to get the real sense that 1.2 billion people of the world are living in semi-hunger or
      full hunger with $ 1.25/day, according to the World Bank report. As long as the humanity is on the earth, there will be poor people and they are put here for the middle class and the rich to worship GOD in a very practical way through wiping their tears and feeding them. That is practical Christianity taught by JESUS CHRIST.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Groucho Marxist

      That's socialism. Jesus was a socialist.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      A.S. The way to help poor countries and their people is to NOT have them listen to the insane teachings of the RCC as it relates to use of birth control and abortion. When the pope tells these poor people to use birth control and limit the number of children they have then I'll respect him.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  12. uh yeah.....no.....

    Typical Christians . Take something that isn't theirs and make it theirs . History will repeat itself ....smh....

    July 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  13. tony

    Look people. This is the person who apparently believes that his and others prayers are the cause of the world being the awful way it is. How he/she can sleep at night is beyond me.

    e.g. "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things -Prayer changeth things"

    July 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  14. Clarke

    Well I like him. He has a good heart.

    July 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • tony

      Goodness easily exists without any religion needed. It's the religious thinkers that somehow assume that the ownership and dispensing of goodness is theirs alone.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • tony

      LL. Enroll in some ESL classes. It may help your cognitive processes, such as they are.

      July 14, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • Geri

      Really? Then why, in addition to your awful mangling of the written word, do you use ",,," instead of "..."? Looks uneducated to me.
      Ah, I don't even care. You're a bloviating nuisance.

      July 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • Geri

      Lady Lambalot, if your children have forsaken you it is most likely because they can't understand a damn word you say. Oh, yeah, and stop asking for government handouts. You're fleecing the country dry, Lady Lamb.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Geri

      And I'm female, and have always been. Knock it off with the silly nicknames; it'll get you in trouble every time you assume you know what gender it is of the person you are addressing. If I wanted to be "handy dandy Geri" or "Journeymen Geri", that's what my moniker would be.
      I doubt people care about your biography. I know I don't. It's none of my business.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Rollo Tomasi

      Geri, LaLa is the village idiot here, writing moronic ideas in the most absurd, failed, and feculent attempt at poetic prose ever attempted.

      Only newbies even bother to try to read his unreadable diarrhetoric. The rest of us totally ignore it. He is a fop.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • Geri

      Thanks, Rollo. Duly noted.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
  15. Joe Clark

    while questioning whether Pope Francis might be walking in Princess Diana's shoes may make great press the fact is that the Pope is attempting to follow the path of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The press will not publish this. It might be a risk to their annual sales of their news to a world that many do not recognize him.

    July 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Gramma

      LL, it's "sinful ways," not "sinfulness ways." Do you truly not know the difference between a noun and an adjective?

      July 14, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • Geri

      In other words, you make it up as you go along. You're changing the language in unacceptable ways, not everyone else. Making up garbage words do not make them valid.

      July 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Athy

      LL, how could you possibly help someone to read?

      July 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Geri

      My name is Geri, short for Gerilyn. And you know exceedingly well that you don't speak the way you write; you don't write nearly as well as you have convinced yourself you do.

      Your genealogy is irrelevant.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Athy

      Actually, LL is irrelevant. Most of us just ignore him.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Akira

      "If the pontiff were truly following Christ Jesus, he would be upon the cross dying for our sinfulness ways."

      If this was a requirement for following Jesus, there would be no followers.
      Do YOU follow Jesus Christ, ll? You say so on your newest blog site. When is YOUR crucifixion scheduled?

      I like this new Pope. We shall see what we shall see.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  16. Trent

    Seems like the pope would want a focus on the mission, not the messenger. Awesome!!

    July 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  17. Scott f.

    Getting sick of articles about him. He clearly cares nothing doe the Italian citizens who suffer from the illegal invasion of muslims and other africans into their country. Hypocrite.

    July 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  18. tony

    Why are religious beliefs "sacred" and requiring respect from no believers?. Believing in a flat earth or ghosts or "mediums" isn't treated as a matter of tolerance or respect. And those beliefs usually cause less harm. Especially if held by powerful politicians or leaders of violent groups.

    July 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • snowboarder

      it is long past due for religions to lose their unearned pedestal in society.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • tony

      LL. You really need a dictionary. Less and No are two different words with two different meanings.

      July 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Athy

      I think LL is well beyond the point where a dictionary would help.

      July 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  19. andres

    Cnn your headline writers have reached a new low, so low that it will take concerted efforts to top this one. The pope is not the catholic princess. You folks are absolute Mor ons.

    July 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Whats the matter... still angry Fox News took down their comments section? Perhaps you'd be happier over at WND.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  20. Bootyfunk

    i think we all know who would win in a child molestation contest...

    July 14, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Little Boy; Gee, Mister, this forest is really dark and scary!

      Pope: What are you complaining about? I've got to walk out of here by myself!

      July 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • andres

      You are sick individuals. It will take time but this pope will turn the abuse of innocents around. Give him a chance.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Greg

      Judging by your previous posts, you're down with child abuse too, justice for all. As long as it's not sexual in nature, you embrace beating the hell out of children to "discipline" them. Where do you draw the line? Hot irons? Cigarette burns? Belts? Starvation? Shuddup.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • UhOh

      "You would win in a child molestation contest hands down!"

      Another xtian lying for their god.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Geri

      All of your posts have sexual connotations, justice. You are quite good at calling out others on behavior you readily exhibit yourself.
      Latent?

      July 14, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.