Pope Francis and Photo-Evangelization

Like many throughout the world, I've seen the pictures now materializing on Facebook, Buzzfeed and other sites -- the pictures of Pope Francis praying with and hugging a man apparently afflicted with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerve tissue. The images are arresting, and it's easy to understand why so many claim to have been moved to tears. 

As I reflected on Pope Francis's embrace, I thought about how much this Pope is in the news, about how much he captivates through his actions. If Benedict was a man of text, Francis is a man of imagery. Today, for instance, people across the world are reflecting and commenting on an encounter that probably lasted no more than a minute or two. For his papacy, this has been the norm. 


As I pondered this, I thought about what a shift the world has undergone, what a difference the modern era has made for the relationship between Catholics and the Pope. This transformation is captured succinctly in A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present, by the great Jesuit historian Fr. John O'Malley. There, he writes:

The history of the popes is not a history of Catholicism, which is a much, much bigger reality. The popes are only a part of that history. We might easily confuse the two because, especially for the past hundred years, the papacy has played a larger role in Catholics' self-definition than ever before. This new preeminence is due to many factors, but among them the modern means of communication like radio, television, and now the Internet are especially important. In the year 1200, for instance, perhaps 2 percent of the population knew there was such an institution as the papacy or believed it had anything significant to do with their religion. How would they have known about it? The papacy was not mentioned in any creed, and it did not appear in any catechism until the sixteenth century.

Only 2 percent in the year 1200? It's a remarkable historical fact. Today, the whole world knows there's a pope, and for many Catholics, the papacy plays an essential role in their understanding of Catholicism. What are we to make of this shift? I suppose it depends on whom one asks, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, today it's a very good thing.  


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Bruce Snowden
4 years 4 months ago
Responding to Matt Emerson's stirring conversation on Pope Francis and his Photo Evangelism, the following Shock-Gospel-Evangelism is a quote by Fr. James Martin, S.J., taken from another site addressing Pope Francis' embrace of a man afflicted with Neurofibromatosis.The photo circling the globe has shocked humanity to tears. "In the Gospel of Mark, a leper begs Jesus for healing, by saying, If you choose, you can make me clean." Mark's Gospel tells what happened next: "Moved with pity Jesus stretched out his hand and said to him, 'I do choose. Be made clean.' Immediately the leprosy left him and he was made clean." "But the English translation of this powerful story is weak indeed. The original Greek word for "moved with pity" is the Greek "splagchnistheis." This means that Jesus felt compassion in his bowels, the place where the ancients believed that the emotions resided. In other words, Jesus felt it in his guts. (!!!) This is the kind of compassion we are called to have and to express. This is the kind of compassion we see in the photo of the Pope's embrace." - the embrace of the man with Neurofibromatosis (in all its forms?) Yes, physically, psychologically, spiritually.
4 years 4 months ago
From an overview-perspective, one of the most excellent ways Frank (Pope Francis - I call Him "Frank") is meeting the manifold challenges OUR Church is encountering is masterful. Frank is not responding to crises directly. Frank is taking - not only leading, but blazing His own path - OUR Church to a new paradigm. A new context. Old problems can only be addressed so many times before they become more than problems. They can define OUR church; indeed, they have defined OUR Catholic Church to many people. I do not like this. I am thrilled we Catholics have a humble Leader to follow and help OUR Church master OUR NEW PARADIGM.


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