Tuesday June 28TH 2016 was a momentous occasion in Vatican City. A meeting between Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI reaffirm the Catholic Church’s support of the direction the newest Pope is taking. With over 1.2 billion followers worldwide, the Roman Catholic Church has a substantial influence over a large portion of the world’s population. Prior to Pope Francis, many of these followers grew accustomed to the leadership and direction of Benedict XVI, a style that displayed the church’s conservative political tendencies. With the induction of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church now has a leader that leans less towards the rigidity of the past and is working to position the Church for more modern times.
Benedict XVI was known to be an advocate for economic justice and believed capitalism was partially to blame for the socio-economically disadvantaged worldwide. However, he still lived in the Apostolic Palace, the lavish palace and residence in Vatican City. Benedict XVI, aptly named the “Prada Pope” because of his tendency towards extravagance (Mercedes cars, custom Italian shoes, and perfume), commanded an organization worth just under 8 billion dollars. Social and gender inequalities were still pervasive in the Catholic Church during his leadership and not at all discouraged by Benedict XVI; he believed homosexuality was an intrinsic disorder and women should continue to produce more Catholic children, encouraged by the sin of contraception, premarital sex, and abortion.
The newest elect to the Papal position differs significantly in his lifestyle. Pope Francis has chosen to remain a resident in the St. Martha’s Guesthouse, a humble building, in the southern part of Vatican City and lives among bishops and priests. He takes meals as well as seven AM mass with the other permanent residents of the guesthouse in the small chapel on site. Though there are opportunities for his to visit a private vacation palace, he choses to sleep in and read instead. He has encouraged the devout to choose a modest lifestyle, as he demonstrates with his preferred vehicles; He is seen most often in budget Fiats or a 30 year old Renault hatchback.
Pope Francis is also very different from Benedict XVI as his acknowledgment and reaction to social change around the world are very telling of his more moderate political leanings. As was widely publicized, this year, on Easter Sunday , the Pontiff washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Hindu, Catholic and Orthodox refugees as an acknowledgement of religious conflict and encouragement of peace among those who are divided by extremism and radicalism. On the issue of homosexuality, he opens doors to a community previously condemned, saying “… If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” He goes on to explain himself, saying “…these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”
Pope Francis has only addressed women’s reproductive rights in a statement pertaining to the Zika Virus outbreak when he said contraception “is not an absolute evil” if some circumstances. However, he has made a huge but subtle statement about women’s sexuality when he addressed new mothers at a baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel. He told these women during the ceremony “You mothers give your children milk and even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them, don’t worry,”. This suggests Pope Francis recognizes the modern sexualization of breasts and refuses to partake in that mindset; he believes women should not made to be felt ashamed of the sexual reproductive parts of their body.
No other Pope has tackled the issue of environmentalist and climate change as Pope Francis. Benedict XVI simply asked that we recognize the changes we have had on the natural world through our “irresponsible behavior”. But Pope Francis published an Encyclical letter entitled “On Care for Our Common Home”. In this document, and in a speech made to the United Nations General Assembly, the Pope recognized the efforts of “numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups” and their technological advances in the continued effort to preserve natural resources and the inherent beauty found on Earth. He suggested the reason for the degradation was our incessant production and consumption and said “…for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. Pope Francis went on to call on all Catholics, Christians, and non –Christians, alike, to recognize and understand we affect the “common home” and must make changes on a global level.
Pope Francis is opening doors for many who have felt marginalized by the Catholic Church and its teachings, including the gay community, scientists and environmental advocates, and women and is bringing the Church into the 21st century with this more inclusionary ideology. He lives a relatively simple life, incurring much fewer costs and making larger statements of peace, social equality, and environmentalism. Unlike the hypocritical ways of his predecessor, Pope Francis walks the walk and talks the talk.
This article was written by Erin Benton, a writer for dusk magazine.