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
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(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.”

[tweet 354180232221171712 hide_media='true']

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. palintwit

    I always thought Diana was kind of hot.

    July 17, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • palintwit

      Unlike Sarah Palin who is a putz.

      July 17, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • faith

      tis a joy to be treated with such great respect since my conversion to atheism. the "gang" have been extraordinarily kind and thoughtful. they haven't deleted or blocked almost any of my posts. they are keeping personal attacks of the deluded to a minimum. very patiently and gently they teach them why our faith is more rational and more scientifically sound than the blinded believer's.

      beloved, please educate me how we dismiss jesus systematically from the thousand of fake gods, so that i may teach them the truth


      July 21, 2013 at 1:12 am |

    He dresses in the manner of a male prostitute.

    July 17, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  3. Realist

    it's pretty sad when adults still pretend 'purpose' when using their god/jesus beliefs.

    I suppose it'll be a while before the religious evolve. They are like Peter Pan.. except with 'I'll never evolve' and continue with their voo doo witchcraft beliefs.

    July 17, 2013 at 7:57 am |
  4. Jobin

    Testimony continued..
    On Analysing

    When I look back, there was nothing unusual for a studious girl like me to aim at a professional career and later to engage myself in charitable work. But that was not what God wanted me to do. When I surrendered myself for the fulfilment of God's plan, my life was blessed. God has a scheme for each one of us and at times He works for others through us for their salvation. Let us surrender ourselves to the Lord and pray that he may reveal his plan to us. "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3/35). Whoever does not do his will is a Satan (Mark 8/33). Whatever we do and whatever plans we may have will become useless if they are not according to God's plan. "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain" (Psalm 127/1). We may have valid excuses at times not to do a thing, but if we do not live according to his directions, we may be driven out of the 'Garden of Eden' (Gen.3). On the contrary when we live according to his plan, it is more pleasing to him than all the sacrifices we may offer. "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord" (1 Samuel 15/22).

    For a complete surrender to the Lord, we may have to give up many things which are dear to us. When Simon and Andrew were called by Jesus, "immediately they left their nets and followed him." (Mark 1/18)

    Our Co-operation
    God respects man's freedom and so our co-operation is inevitable for carrying out His Will. We often find excuses to shirk our duties. Even the prophets, who were chosen by God, at times tried to evade their mission. Jeremiah said that he was only a boy while Moses thought that stammering was an obstacle for carrying out God's mission. One of the disciples found the excuse, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father" (Mathew 8/21). But God says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor.12/9). Yes, God does not bother about our abilities but needs only our weaknesses. We must be humble enough like the donkey who carried Jesus. Then people will sing 'Hosanna'.

    A word of caution – I am not advocating that everyone should give up his studies or job and preach the Good news- "Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freeman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ" (1 Cor.7/20-22).
    Ask God sincerely, 'Lord, what is your plan about me? How can I glorify you through my life?' Pray and wait for an answer from the Lord. (Cont'd – Shalom Tidings Magazine)

    July 17, 2013 at 2:06 am |
  5. Jobin

    Dear All,

    Read Living Testimony of a Women in India

    I started my pre-degree course choosing the second group which was a necessary prelude for my medical career. But God had other plans for me. The polio virus by this time had taken sway over my vertebral column and my backbone became weaker day by day. The medical treatment gave little relief. There was slight improvement when I performed the spinal extension exercises. It was an agony for me to sit through practical work. So at last I decided to change over to psychology course. However my health deteriorated further and so I decided to remain at home and enrol myself as a private candidate for the University examination. I was able to complete the examinations only part by part. Added to these problems, the syllabus too changed in between and this accentuated my misery. Whatever work I had done was futile and this gave me great pain both physically and mentally.

    Yet my faith in God was unshaken and I prayed constantly for Divine mercy. I had great confidence in my own abilities and I wanted to accomplish whatever I had planned earlier. But God revealed to me my foolishness. I realised that I was trying to evade like Jonah and ultimately I surrendered myself to the will of God. A complete surrender brought me peace and tranquility. Thus I came to experience, the peace and justice in God's kingdom and the immense joy brought through the Holy Spirit. My intimate relationship with God helped me to pray more intensely especially for the needs of others. Gradually Jesus began to grow in me while I became weaker and weaker. I saw myself being crucified with Jesus and sharing in the agony of the crucified Christ. If someone was empathetic enough to say, 'Oh God' by seeing my condition, I thought that I was becoming instrumental in bringing 'God' into somebody else's mind. I felt that I was becoming God's ambassador on earth.

    I have the 'Abba' experience because I know that I am his daughter and that he wants to work through me. So my disease and weakness are no more problems for me. Suffering is what God demands of me and so that is my vocation.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:03 am |
    • Gene Gene the Dancing Machine

      "The Abba experience."

      Just when you thought Christian just couldn't get any funnier . . .

      July 17, 2013 at 2:14 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      That's a very Catholic outlook regarding suffering.
      It is the same ideology that allowed Mother Theresa to deny recent amputees painkillers and to use dull, unsterilized needles in her healing houses.

      Though I can't help but wonder who you would believe is more worthy of praise – Mother Theresa or Jonas Salk.

      July 17, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • mzh

      Its sounds like you were in hallucination when you saw urself being crucified with whoever it is...

      don't listen to the whispers of evil with concept of "through the Holy Spirit".... besides the act of Satan there an evil part that every human has with himself/herself...

      this entire concept is incorrect if a human be honest to himself...

      its like i talk with my imagination or myself and claim something else...

      July 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  6. Realist

    pope francis is just another con man,,

    July 16, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  7. Madtown

    Is Pope Francis the Catholic Princess Diana?
    We can't be certain until he tries on the blue dress Diana is wearing in the photo. Something tells me he won't wear it quite as good as she did.

    July 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  8. Agnostickids

    So, is the ti tle of this article asking if Princess Diana didn't really die, but came back as an aged, smelly old man that pretends to be Catholic and thus became the current Pope?

    Possibly. I'd have to see his shoes to say for sure...you know...if they were Prada....

    July 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  9. saggyroy

    As far as I know, Diana never criticized or discriminated against anyone else for NOT being a princess, or forced her belief on someone that unless you were a princess you were going to hell..

    July 16, 2013 at 6:04 am |
  10. Science _Is_A_Lie

    Pope Francis is secretly a pretty princess:

    He likes sparkly dresses,sceptors,and robes/capes,especially in purple

    July 15, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  11. Peregrine

    Maybe he's doing one of his bodyguards on the side too.

    July 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  12. Reality

    Diana was simply breeding stock for the "tourist-trapping" Episcopalian 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 15, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  13. God wears panties

    Well the pope does dress like a queen

    July 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  14. tony

    Will all your entire life's toenail clippings, cut hair, etc., be waiting for you when you go to heaven?

    July 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • HH

      Only if kept in jars next to the urine collection.

      July 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
      • palintwit


        July 16, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Johnny Boy

      And which iteration of you goes to heaven? The young you? The old you? The last you that you were? People do not remain the same over their lifetimes. Does the murdering part of The Son of Sam go to heaven too, or is it left behind because he decided he is all Jesusy and calls himself the Son of Hope now? Do people who go insane take the insanity to heaven?

      The concept of a soul just doesn't hold up.

      July 15, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
      • JMG

        I think if there is an afterlife it is not an "iteration" of yourself which goes on, but a continuation of yourself. Thinking of a person in terms of old or young is considering the body and not the soul. The soul is what many believe to be eternal and I do not think would be presented in terms of old or young apart from the body. Rather, the soul is the energy or essence of a person.

        July 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  15. Honey Badger Don't Care

    With that dress and those shoes he could pass for Dianna, maybe.

    July 15, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Not so sure about that

      She would never be that tacky.

      July 15, 2013 at 11:55 am |

    The pope and the entire staff of Vatican Inc. to include all of their branch offices (often mislabled as "churches") should be in prison.

    July 15, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      No they shouldn't.

      July 15, 2013 at 10:37 am |

        Yes, they should. And that's the end of the discussion. Thanks for playing.

        July 15, 2013 at 10:44 am |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

          No they shouldn't.

          July 15, 2013 at 10:51 am |
        • Alias

          Be careful here, not all priests touched alter boys inappropriately.
          Saying they should all be in jail is like ....... wanting to prosecute all Nazis.

          July 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
        • Dippy

          Altar, not alter.

          July 15, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Hmmmmmmmmmm

      With costumes like those, they should be in a musical.

      July 15, 2013 at 10:42 am |
      • HH

        Isn't that called Mass?

        July 15, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  17. William Demuth

    Does anyone doubt for a second that man is aware of dozens, and probably hundreds of closeted men in the clergy who molest little boys?

    Giving money to the organization makes you complicit in the torture of children.

    The US AG has more than enough to charge them with violating the RICO statutes.

    They are criminals who defraud little old ladies and victimize little boys.

    July 15, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • JimK57

      I think you need to post evidence to prove that this pope has done these things. The burden of proof lies with you.

      July 15, 2013 at 9:56 am |
      • William Demuth

        You have heard of the New York Times?

        Perhaps the Wall Street Journal? The Examiner, The Post, Newsweek, Reuters and Chronicle?

        If you are ignorant, it is because you choose to be

        July 15, 2013 at 9:59 am |
        • JimK57

          I have never seen an article that stated THIS man knows of these thngs and allows them to happen. Not the catholic church THIS man.

          July 15, 2013 at 10:04 am |
        • IIIlllIIlIIIlllIIIIIIlllllIIIIIII

          Jim, are you implying that he has no idea this is going on? Are you insane or just an apologist that pretends like this hasn't been happening?

          July 15, 2013 at 10:15 am |
      • froth

        no way!

        July 15, 2013 at 10:02 am |
      • JimK57

        I am saying that you have to offer proof to make a claim as fact. If it is your opinion that is fine. Just do not claim your belief is fact.

        July 15, 2013 at 10:21 am |
        • IIIlllIIlIIIlllIIIIIIlllllIIIIIII

          Jim, WRONG.


          You're just as guilty as the lot of them if you're demanding evidence of what the entire planet already knows.

          July 15, 2013 at 10:46 am |
      • William Demuth


        The Mafia's Godfathers always keep their hands clean, yet they are judged guilty every day

        This man runs the show and is accountable for EVERYTHING that happened.

        If he were to be so generous as to identify his predatory clergy, he might deserve slack but otherwise he deserves to hang

        July 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      Let's not forget his complicity with fascist regimes.

      July 15, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  18. Saraswati

    Try not using derogatory terms like 'buggery' ... there's a whole world of grown up words out there people use in discussing child abuse that aren't insulting to large parts of the population who have no part in this scandal.

    July 15, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      I lived in the UK briefly and I'm aware of the connotation. I mean in this instance, how is it derogatory? And even if it is, surely child abusers are deserving of being labelled in a derogatory manner.

      July 15, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Sorry, It is derogatory to consenting adult gay men. The act in its general sense is not the problem here, it's the fact that these are minors and the situation is non-consensual.

      July 15, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      Duly noted, although I'm not the type of person to take PC considerations into account in my general speech (although buggery isn't a word I frequently use).

      July 15, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  19. William Demuth

    The Church and its sycophants have been trying to silence the opposition since its inception

    Be careful dude, or they might burn you at the stake!

    July 15, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      I wasn't referring to the Catholic Church, I was referring to the oppressive moderator.

      July 15, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  20. I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

    The new regime has become highly oppressive. I miss the laissez-faire days.

    July 15, 2013 at 9:23 am |
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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.