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Pope Francis becoming media superstar

Pope Francis becoming media superstar
TIME, Vanity Fair, LIFE, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, all feature pontiff on magazine covers

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
February 1, 2014

Since the words Habemus Papam were uttered last March 13 and a slightly bewildered and clearly overwhelmed Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio gingerly stepped out on the loggia as Pope Francis, the world has been transfixed by the Argentinean pontiff.

Since then Pope Francis, who took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, has been turning the church upside down with his simplicity and down-to-earth manners and mannerisms turning the social order on its ear. The world has taken note, especially the print media where the Holy Father is gracing a variety of magazine covers around the globe.

In living memory, no other church leader has commanded such intense media interest. Not only has the Pope been named Person of the Year by TIME, he was also named Man of the Year by The Advocate and by the Italian version of Vanity Fair, as well as the Best Dressed Man of the Year by Esquire. The Pope's influence slices across all political, theological, and intellectual stripes even though he is not swaying on fundamental core Catholic doctrine and strong social teachings -- homosexuality, women in the priesthood, abortion and contraception. He is simply providing a gentler more pastoral approach to presenting scriptural truths.

Since his election as the leader of one-point-two billion Catholics worldwide, Pope Francis has peered out from a growing number of magazine stands around the globe. His face has been seen in the United States on TIME, LIFE, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The Advocate, Houston Style, America (Jesuit), and Columbia (Knights of Columbus). Some overseas publications include Italian magazines Famiglia Cristian, L'Espresso, VanityFair-Italy, Panorama and CHI as well as La Nación and Gente in Argentina; Semanario, Contigo.50, and Veja in Brazil; and Caras throughout Latin America.

Pope Francis has proven himself to be a very photogenic subject with his ready easy smile, very reminiscent of the gentle smile of Pope John Paul I who was dubbed the "September Pope" by the media for his short 34-calendar day pontificate and made the cover of TIME twice -- once after he was elected (The New Pope: John Paul I -- Sept. 4, 1978) and then a month later following his death (Church in Shock -- Oct. 9, 1978).

Popes seem to be a favorite topic with TIME. Every pope since Pope Pius XI, who was pope when TIME first started publishing in 1923, has been on its cover. Throughout the 80-year history of the US-based news magazine, which has produced almost 3,000 magazine covers and counting, a Bishop of Rome has been on the cover about 30 times. Only two popes have been named TIME's Man of the Year: Pope John XXIII in 1963 and Pope John Paul II in 1994.

Pope Paul VI was on the cover three times. Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul I both made the TIME cover twice, Pope John XXIII and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI four times, while Pope John Paul II has graced the news publication more than a dozen times.

Pope Francis has already made the TIME magazine cover three times since stepping into the Shoes of the Fisherman on March 13, 2013. On March 23 Pope Francis first appeared on TIME as the "New World Pope"; on July 29 he again appeared as the "People's Pope"; and then, as an early Christmas present, the popular Pope was named TIME's Person of the Year on Dec. 23.

Blessed John XXIII, Venerable Paul VI, Servant of God John Paul I, and Blessed John Paul II the Great are all in various stages of eventual Catholic sainthood.

Usually, TIME's Person of the Year include politicians, royalty, military brass, dictators, world leaders, business moguls, and national heroes. Few women have been singularly named TIME's Woman of the Year: That short list includes the Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson (1936), China's First Lady Soong May-ling (1937), Queen Elizabeth II (1952), and Philippines President Corazon Aquino (1986). Rarely are religious figures included in the list of honorees; however the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored in 1963 and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori may generate screaming headlines around the world for her unorthodox theology, but she hasn't commanded the respect and admiration Pope Francis garners. The Pope regularly fills St. Peter's Square for his general weekly audiences with more than six million souls flocking to the Vatican to see him. In late July, an estimated three million souls showed up for his Mass on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for World Youth Day. Meanwhile, the Presiding Bishop can't even fill a small church whenever she comes to town.

The current Episcopal Presiding Bishop has never graced TIME's cover. She has been the topic of several stories with banner headlines: "Will a New Female Leader Trigger an Episcopal Divorce?" (June 19, 2006); "10 Questions For Katharine Jefferts Schori" (July 10, 2006); "Saving Grace" and "Looking for the Light" (June 7, 2007); "The Anglicans Get Ready to Rumble" (Sept. 26, 2007); "The Episcopal Property War" (April 4, 2008); "How to Preach on Sunday, September 11, 2011" (Sept. 10, 2011); and "We recognize that we may be wrong, yet we have proceeded in the belief that the Spirit permeates our decisions", an op-ed piece she penned for TIME's June 3, 2010 edition.

While the Pope got a TIME cover story when he was elected, the XXVI Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church was merely mentioned in the July 3, 2006 Milestones: "ELECTED -- Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, theologically liberal Episcopal Bishop of Nevada; as Presiding Bishop of the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., becoming the first woman to lead a province of the global Anglican Communion; in Columbus, Ohio ... "

Of the 10 Archbishops of Canterbury since TIME started publishing, only three Archbishops of Canterbury -- Geoffrey Fisher (1954); Michael Ramsey (1963); and Rowan Williams (2007) - along with one Archbishop of York, Cyril Garbett (1944) have been so honored. Neither the reigning Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby nor the current Archbishop of York John Sentamu (2005 - present) has made a TIME cover.

While the Episcopal Church Center headquarters at 815 Second Avenue is just a leisurely stroll from the Time-Life Building at One Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan, there have only been two Episcopal Presiding Bishops to make the magazine's cover: James De Wolf Perry (PB 18) on Oct. 15, 1934 "General Convention in Atlantic City"; and Henry Knox Sherrill (PB 20) on March 26, 1951 "The Church & the church," and "400 Years of Protestantism."

Other divine, biblical and historic religious figures who have graced TIME's nearly 200 religiously-themed covers include: God, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Paul, Moses, Abraham, the Good Samaritan, Martin Luther and Buddha. Some of the contemporary spiritual notables include: Martin Luther King (1957, 1964, 1965, 2006, & 2013); Billy Graham (1954, 1974, 1993, & 2007); televangelist Jerry Falwell (1985); Princeton theologian Henry Van Dusen (1954); Harvard theologian Paul Tillich (1959); Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy (1964); World Council of Churches President Eugene Carson Blake (1961); televangelist Pat Robertson (1986); the Dalai Lama (1959); the Maharishi (1975); Buddhist monk Thich Tri Quang (1966); evangelist Jimmy Swaggart along with televangelists Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker (1987); "Mr. Protestant" Lutheran Pastor Franklin Fry (1958); Rabbi Louis Finkelstein (1951); and Russian Patriarch Sergius I (1943).

The only other Episcopalian bishops to make a cover of TIME include: V California Bishop James Pike (1966); Philippines Missionary Bishop Charles Brent (1927); VII Massachusetts Bishop William Lawrence (1924); and III Washington Bishop James Freeman (1927 & 1932).

Only a handful of notable Episcopalians have made it to the cover of TIME, but Anglicans and Episcopalians have been fodder for a myriad of stories throughout the 80-year history of the weekly news publication. During the current era, The Episcopal Church has tended to generate more controversial stories and air its dirty laundry through the pages of TIME and other media outlets to the embarrassment of many Episcopalians in the pews and the amusement of the Anglican blogosphere.

Some headline grabbing stories include: "How Will Anglicans React if N.H. Episcopalians Elect Another Gay Bishop?" (May 17, 2012); "Sad Statistics" (Dec. 27, 1938); "Anglicans: Empty Pews, Full Spirit" (Aug. 16, 1963); "Bishop Pike: Heretic or Prophet?" (Nov. 11, 1966); "Episcopalian Census" (Dec. 30, 1929) "The Challenge of Unity" (Sept. 16, 1946); "Uganda Becomes an Anglican Haven" (Sept. 28, 2007); "The Tale of Two Churches" (Oct. 4, 2004) "Divided Over Women" (Oct. 4, 1976); "A House Divided" (Aug. 18, 2003); "Episcopalians' Semi-Schism Upset over Women Clergy, Traditionalists Defy the Church" (June 19, 1989); "The Women's Rebellion" (Aug. 12, 1974); "Anglo-Catholics" (Oct. 25, 1925); "An Episcopalian Divorce" (Aug. 9, 2003); "Episcopalians: Faith & Prejudice in Georgia" (Nov. 15, 1923); "Episcopal Turf War" (June 9, 2001); "Episcopal Split" (Feb. 13, 1978); "Episcopalians: An End to Heresy?" (Aug. 25, 1967); "Irreverent Reverend" (Jan. 11, 1971); "James Pike: A Life on the Brink" (Sept. 12, 1969); "General Convention: Hope Deferred" (Sept. 30, 1946); "When Is a Bishop Not a Bishop?" (June 18, 1988); "An Anglican Schism: Headed for US?" (June 30, 2008); "Bishop Pike: California Schism" (Aug. 24, 1962); and "Are Episcopalians Smug?" (March 26, 1945).

The Roman Catholic Church has staying power, she has been around for a while, tracing her beginnings to Christ and His Apostles, especially St. Peter, the first pope. Through the years TIME has repeatedly highlighted various aspects of the Catholic Church, Catholicism, Catholics, Mother Teresa, as well as various nuns, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes. Pope Francis now has the star power.

"Pope Francis' words are incarnated in him," the director of VITA magazine, Giuseppe Frangi, writes. "They say so much, almost everything, in fact, about him. They carve out his figure before the eyes of the world, not just before the eyes of those who believe. We have the figures to prove this: we collected all the speeches the Pope made up ... separating them according to type - audiences, Angelus prayers, sermons and speeches made during visits - and we got the counters rolling. The results consistently showed that the Pope is what he says. Apart from the word 'Jesus', the most frequently recurring term is 'everyone/everything'".

This is why the Pope not only has star power but staying power -- he willingly and unashamedly proclaims Jesus Christ. Even when he is not speaking, by his very presence, he is silently preaching the Gospel following in the footsteps of his sainted namesake St. Francis who is quoted as saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words."

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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