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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. I wish

    I wish someone would take all the money from the Vatican and distribute it to the poor and needy. Same with the treasures at the White house and the Royal palace.

    July 25, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  2. Voice of Truth-Censored by CNN

    Behold!!!!!! i give you the one TRUE God!!!!!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Shammgod

    July 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
  3. SeattleBeliever

    We already had the Catholic Diana, her name was Mother Teresa. She didn't just do charity work, she lived it. Lived in poverty, lived amongst those she helped. Unlike Diana who lived in palaces, had nice jewelry and wanted for nothing. Not saying she was a bad person, she was the contrary. But please.....give me a break. She's not the standard for all do gooders in the world

    July 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Voice of Truth-Censored by CNN

      she IS however, standard by which all ATTRACTIVE do gooders are judged.

      July 24, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • truthsayer

      She didn't help the poor...birth control is helping the poor

      July 27, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  4. thelaura

    pope francis is NOT a "princess"

    July 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  5. lightnzdarkness

    God bless Pope Francis and his journey to Brazil.

    July 23, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
  6. undrgrndgirl

    frances is more an american protestant? oh, no he isn't.
    for starters, he seems genuine in his concern for the poor.

    July 23, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  7. ced

    Remember, Love is all...

    July 23, 2013 at 7:20 am |
  8. Byrd

    Maybe he'll now admit how long the Catholic Church has been slipping opium into the communion wafers. It's no wonder they all believe the dual concepts of heaven and hell considering the fact that they're all bipolar. Quite a nasty, but useful, little tool to have in your medicine chest if you hope to remain the man in the middle indefinitely. You might even be surprised how many other countries use the same technique to modify/manage the behavior of their citizens.

    July 22, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  9. TrustKnow1

    What hypocrisy! Pope Francis delivers the biggest lie to the people. Pappa John's delivers pizza to the people. One product provides toxicity to the soul while the other provides nourishment to the body. Princess Diana became "one" with people to the point of removing land mines. The Pope becomes available to people with his hands out to collect money. What a shame!

    The truth is out there... Fight the future!

    July 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • undrgrndgirl

      papa john's doesn't deliver nutrition. yikes.
      it delivers money to its shareholders!
      not really a very good analogy.

      July 23, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • LOVE THE PAPA

      I can tell your life hasn't been better but BITTERNESS. Your SOUL MAYBE JUDGE!

      July 26, 2013 at 5:48 am |
  10. Cecy_TOB

    What a RIDICULOUS comparison. When Mother Teresa died, mass media also started to compare and tried to make them "look alike". It is ludicrous how the world want to compare their idols with the saints of God. NO COMPARISON! Princess Diana might have had good intentions, but she was missing the most important part in her life: CHRIST!

    July 21, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  11. mzh

    If one wants to misguided, s/he does by his/her own choice...

    31:6 – And of the people is he who buys the amusement of speech to mislead [others] from the way of Allah without knowledge and who takes it in ridicule. Those will have a humiliating punishment.

    14:22 – And Satan will say when the matter has been concluded, "Indeed, Allah had promised you the promise of truth. And I promised you, but I betrayed you. But I had no authority over you except that I invited you, and you responded to me. So do not blame me; but blame yourselves. I cannot be called to your aid, nor can you be called to my aid. Indeed, I deny your association of me [with Allah ] before. Indeed, for the wrongdoers is a painful punishment."

    July 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  12. mzh

    @ "God will judge us upon how we have treated the most needy."

    God will also judge us for associating partners with God Almighty and making a messanger as dieties with The Almighty...

    3:49 – And [make him Jesus] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of Allah . And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.
    3:50 – And [I (Jesus) have come] confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear Allah and obey me (Jesus).
    3:51 – Indeed, Allah is my (Jesus) Lord and your (companions) Lord, so worship Him. That is the straight path."
    5:116 – And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, 'Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?'" He will say, "Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.
    5:117 – I said not to them except what You commanded me – to worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness.
    5:118 – If You should punish them – indeed they are Your servants; but if You forgive them – indeed it is You who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.
    5:119 – Allah will say, "This is the Day when the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness." For them are gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever, Allah being pleased with them, and they with Him. That is the great attainment.
    5:120 – To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is within them. And He is over all things competent.

    Peace be upon all of you!!!

    July 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  13. Hypatia

    Not unless Frankie is a zombie in drag....wait, come to think of it......

    July 19, 2013 at 12:09 am |
    • Ha ha

      I know, it's like one of those before and after slim fast pictures

      July 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  14. Agnostickids

    JUST DISCOVERED! The Pope is Princess Diana in drag!

    Yes! Evidently, as the ti tle to the article suggests, Princess Diana never died in that car crash, but survived, converted to Catholicism and had a s*x change in order to work her way up to become Pope of the Catholic church! How cool is that?

    Looking closely at the picture, I can still see the old Diana in his face. Of course being nude on the beach so much in her Princess life is what aged her so quickly. That and the hormone injections will do it!

    SOOOOO happy that she's really alive and tweeting indulgences online! YAY!!!

    July 18, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • LOVE THE PAPA

      Is that how you INTERPRET THESE TWO ARE GREAT EPITOME IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

      July 26, 2013 at 5:53 am |
  15. Trivia

    Strange that nobody looking for "magical" coincidences mentioned that Diana's middle name was Frances...

    July 18, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  16. Christiane Smith

    for Catholics, responding to the suffering in this world is all about love . . . and that is the kind of love that wants good for others for their own sake, and this love is active and is done in Christ's Name.
    Francis 'gets it'. Catholics know this stuff, but Francis is making sure that the suffering of our world will get priority in his attention, so that we also will remember not only 'who we are' as Catholics, but also that Christ did not come to end all human suffering, but to be a Presence in its midst.

    July 18, 2013 at 12:28 am |
    • EX catholic

      What an ignoramus of Scripture you are! Christ is coming back again to do exactly that. Of course after he puts an end to all IDOLATRY and Judge the world for their unbelief.

      July 18, 2013 at 1:41 am |
      • Robert Chacon

        And what a failure as a follower of Christ you just displayed in your insulting comment.

        July 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
        • EX catholic

          Are you one of those freaks roman priests?

          July 18, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  17. PPJr

    Pope Francis is Catholic princess Diana just as Ronald McDonald is Burger Queen.

    July 17, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  18. EX catholic

    IDOLATRY IS NOT RELIGION people!! IDOLATRY is a Very very grave and Serious SIN

    July 17, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Akira

      The Bible isn't a religion, either, but many people worship it just the same.

      Oh, and what Catholics do isn't idolatry. But you've been told this many times. But that would cut into your trollery on every Catholic-themed story, wouldn't it?

      July 17, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • Salero21

        Oh here is Sharkira again! He/she/it must have fall off the Sharknado. 😀 Are you really that dumb shakira?

        July 18, 2013 at 12:59 am |
      • Bill Deacon

        The sad part to me in this thread is that a professed non-believer is defending the Mother Church against the ignorance of protestant believers. This is probably what the Holy Father meant by "do good and we will meet you there." Thank you Akira.

        July 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
        • Salero21

          I have no doubt at all, that you are one of those freaks and weird roman-catholic idolaters, pedophile priests.

          The reason Sharkira defends that Politico-religious organization, is because in reality, atheists are frustrated idolaters. Who always end up going back to mama. Problem is that mama has many lovers in exchange for goods and money. So... though they know who mama is they don't know their father.

          July 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
        • Bill Deacon

          You should have no doubt that I am a Catholic. I'm practically THE Catholic on this board. But I am now beginning to suspect you are the ugly side of someone I have admired and defended for their wit.

          July 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
        • Akira

          I'm not a professed non-believer, Bill. I have never stated my beliefs one way or another. But you're welcome.

          Salero21, first of all, I'm not an atheist. Secondly, I am married woman for many years, have had a great job for many years, and haven't lived with my parents since I got married at 20.
          I have never asked for anything from the government. Not even unemployment.
          Your preconceive notions of me are wholly wrong, and quite laughable, in that you pretend to be a Christian while condemning whole groups of people who don't believe exactly as you do.
          I don't know if your mother ever whored herself out for goods and services, but mine remained married to my father until his death, and has worked for the majority of her adult life after she raised her children. Sorry you were on welfare. We weren't.
          But you are a troll, and an especially offensive one at that. I hope you find some peace in your chaotic life. Perhaps praying to the God you profess to believe in will be the first step.
          I doubt it, though.

          July 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Jo

      You clearly do not understand..maybe it is best you stay an ex catholic

      July 21, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  19. His panic

    I even I may be his Panic. But there is no reason to Panic if your really trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Only Son.

    July 17, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  20. Reality

    Diana was simply breeding stock for the "tourist-trapping" Episcopalian, brainwashed royals" .

    Francis was chosen to trap Catholic tourists and those suffering from the Three B Syndrome, Bred, Born and Brainwashed in the RCC so there are some similarities.

    July 17, 2013 at 12:07 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.