He is also the first Pope to address a crowd whose joyful faces were hidden behind iPads, cell phones, digital cameras and video recorders. I remember during the election of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI back in 2005 I didn’t even have a digital camera. This year, my Mom and friends in the U.S. followed along closely as I sent photos in real time from my cell phone all day. My mother even commented on the change of weather (she is from Buffalo where weather is the news) throughout the day as I sent her photos from morning until night, black smoke to white. I participated in this historic event with my local NBC news crew where they fed live video to home viewers of the Pope introducing himself on the balcony from the videographer’s backpack.
He was a surprise candidate. Not one of the Pope-ables covered intensely by the media in the week leading up to and during the conclave. As soon as his name was announced there was a moment of silence where it appeared everyone there was looking him up on Google or Wikipedia before applauding. Within an hour you could find everything out about him online from where and when he was born (Buenos Aires 1936 to Italian immigrants), his preferred mode of transportation (the public bus…good luck with that in Rome!), the profound meaning in his choice for nomenclature (after Italy’s patron saint, Francis of Assisi), and his conservative moral views.
Pope Francis seems to have sense of humor about the mass media coverage. One of the first things he said to the crowd after his humble request that we pray for him is that he was granting a plenary indulgence not only to the hundreds of thousands in attendance in St. Peter’s Square, but also to the millions following by television and internet.
Living in Rome, I look forward to getting to know him as a human being. It makes a difference to me whose smile I see weekly riding around in the Popemobile while I am commuting to work. It makes a difference because he is not only the Pope, representing billions of Catholics around the world, but also now the Bishop of Rome whose decisions on issues that matter (need I even point out the most obvious issue, the role of religious women and expected role of lay women in society) affect me on local level.
It is this sense that the Pope is not a distant exotic king, but a church figure present in the daily lives of Romans, that is the reason for a general reluctance here in getting exceedingly concerned or excited. This generation of Italians is as rebellious and secular as anywhere else in the world, while Catholicism struggles to hang on to its youth.
Pope Francis represents a place in the world where Catholicism is more alive. Rome, as Italy’s government capital and stage for strife, struggle and scandal, needs a redeemer. Something optimistic to tweet about besides dinner.