While neither Danae (Greek Orthodox) or Allan (Jewish) happens to be Catholic, both of us have just been amazed and pleased by the aura of optimism and good feelings that have surrounded the rise of the new Pope, Francis I.
Our friends, regardless of their religious faith, have been almost unanimous in expressing their positive reactions to the naming of Francis I, the way that he has handled his brand-new papacy and his initial comments.
Danae, for example, not only liked Francis I’s comments about being a Pope for the poor but she was pleased when the Patriarch of her church, Bartholomew I, turned out to be one of Francis’ many friends and attended the investiture ceremony for Francis, the first time since the 11th Century that has happened. Danae is one of the many followers of the Greek Orthodox faith who thinks the two churches should be closer and in step with each other. For the first time in her lifetime, with Francis I and Bartholomew I, at the steering wheels of both churches, that seems possible.
When Allan, a member of Temple Sinai, asked Rabbi Edward Cohn his thoughts about the ascent of Francis I, Rabbi Cohn replied, “This is clearly a Pope who will bring the touch, the feelings and the beliefs of ordinary men and women to the Vatican. If all goes well, he will use his office to reach out to millions in a way that few of his predecessors have been able to attain.” Rabbi Cohn noted that as the leader of the Catholic Church in Argentina, Francis I had an excellent relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina and spoke out to denounce terrorists who bombed a Jewish community center there.
Like millions of others of all faiths, Danae thinks the way for the Catholic Church to separate itself from the corruption and sex scandals of the past is for new leadership to emerge that is focused on the mission of helping the poor across the world.
But Allan and Danae also think that the Pope is in a tough racket. To be successful, he has to be popular not just now but six months, a year and quite possibly five years from now. But to do that, he will have to speak out on some tough issues on which he is already on record in no uncertain terms. For example, back in the halcyon days of his Argentinian priesthood, he denounced same-sex marriage, the idea of women priests, abortion and those who advocate an end of priestly celibacy. And, unlike a politician who might say, “There are those who disagree with me about this. I have the highest regard for them. They are men and women of integrity and honor who have come to a different conclusion than I. But I am hopeful that we can sit down at the same table and seek common ground.” Oh, no. The Pope has, at least for the last 75 years and probably for centuries before that, been required to denounce those who disagree with him as evil and in the pay of the Devil seeking to do terrible things. Once you’ve been denounced by the Pope in ringing tones as the epitome of evil, it’s tough to think good thoughts about him, the Papacy and the Church.
To be successful in the popularity business, Francis I is going to have a whole new way of expressing himself, much different than the Popes who preceded him.
So, we’ll have to see how the reign of Francis I plays out over the months and years to come. We hope that Francis I will decide to visit New Orleans. He’d really like this town. You know, the music, the ambiance and especially the food. Francis I seems like the kind of guy who’d like a real New Orleans po’boy with roast beef and gravy and all the trimmings. Of course, he’d need a bib or he’d get stuff all over his beautiful clothing. Francis is the kind of Pope who might show up at Mardi Gras Indians’ second line and walk in the street with all the other folks. We wish him well and hope that he gets a handle on this long-term popularity business.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.