What’s behind the smile?

Yesterday, Sunday 27 April 2014, two popes made history together, being canonised together. A lot has been written about Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, and so this post focuses on Pope Francis, and specifically about a photo he took in August last year.

Selfie Pope Francis

Actually, here is a picture of the picture being taken.

Picture of Pope Francis selfie

Let me start by re-stating that I feel that every photo has “multi-dimensional space”, and that photos freeze a moment in time, but not what was happening. What was happening is a whole different thing, very different for every person in that moment, and also possibly many different things for each of them. All of this allows for perspectives which may be disentangled by you and me, the picture’s viewers.

The word selfie was Oxford dictionary’s word of the year in 2013, defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself” and so, strictly speaking the picture of the pope is not a selfie. Because he did not take it. But maybe it qualifies because he actively participated in it (posed for it). Has Pope Francis too been actively pursuing the development of his personality cult?

Do popes need, or should they develop one? A personality cult, that is? Many people still wonder whether, behind that lovely smile of Pope Francis, we will discover a conservative or a progressive leader. What happened yesterday can be a message from the pope, in as much as that selfie, which was published by the Vatican’s l’Osservatore Romano. In fact one might tend to question, as Time did: Public Service or Propaganda? No harm, if by building Pope Francis’s persona, the church can reinforce its own voice.

I feel that the church is very aware that, like every modern government, it needs to engage people. The church knows that its citizens are not only its followers but also the rest of the world. It is reassuring to note Pope Francis’s interest in interfaith dialogue for example – diluting divisions. Would the energy otherwise spent arguing differences, not be better committed to promoting the co-development of the twenty-first century.

 

Update: Upon feedback from readers, the original final argument regarding the environment will be developed further in a future post.