Pope Francis, spiritual head of 1.3 billion people went to Lesbos, saw the immigrants, stayed with them for 4 hours (accompanied by religious leaders who don’t report to him, if you excuse my corporate language, and with whom such encounters would have taken months of ‘negotiations’ to prevent mutual-self-contamination) and brought with him to the Vatican 12 of those immigrants in the Alitalia flight. That’s it.
Horror! What’s wrong with him? He actually does stuff? You mean, is he not supposed to be a leader that pontificates ( as from a pontix, pontifice, a description of the Pope, which actually means ‘build bridges’) and writes long and excruciating, unintelligible, profoundly mysterious papers that need an army of theologians to understand?
Actually, he goes off the cuff all the time (favourite time, long transatlantic flights), lives in a flat in a converted hotel, drives a tiny FIAT, and if you want to know about his theology, don’t wait for the long public, multi-media celebrations; see what he says in his daily Mass in the small chapel of the hotel, where staff, cleaners, secretaries and locals go.
The conservative, traditionalist, stuck in time arm of this huge Church ( and that includes huge numbers of its hierarchy), hates this. It drives many people nuts. At the beginning, he was accused of superficiality, spin, populism, and also opportunism. For anybody seriously looking at the last years, those qualifications are falling apart. In fact they have almost faded. The irritation is that he is actually an activist, a word that contains the word act. He does things, on top of saying things.
I am writing this not from a religious perspective but from a leadership one. We are so used to spin, to weak gestures, to low expectations of full integrity, to ‘talk’, to second guess, to start from a default paranoid platform (‘sooner or later they will take something from me’), that when we see a glimpse of authenticity in action, our brain goes into headache mode. The famous WIIFM (‘what’s in it for me’) has been elevated as the climax of Social Psychology. The Edelman Trust Barometer consistently gives ratings not above 30% for trust in government and business. Should I carry on?
What is wrong with this Pope who actually speaks what he things and does what others have not done?
Ideologically, to make things more confusing for many, Pope Francis is far from a super-liberal, ready to undo all conservative constrains that the Catholic Church has accumulated over centuries. So, he is irritating everybody. The liberals because he is not that much one of them, the conservatives because he is not one of them either, and the Communications Division of The Vatican, because they are the last ones to know what the hell is going on.
New Popes are entitled to choose a new name. So, he went from Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Francis. No, no numbers after Francis, which it would have been ‘the first’ ( as many TV stations broadcasted wrongly on the day of nomination).
Francis of Assisi was an Italian friar of the 13th Century dedicated to the poor and to what we would call today ‘the environment’. One of his favourites quotes is ‘Preach the Gospel all the time; use words when necessary’. He invented the Doing School of Leadership.