By Joe Mellor, In house Reporter 

Messi Maradona and the Pope

When the smoke turned white from the chimney perched above the Sistine chapel I and many others thought “here we go again”. Another Pope who hates homosexuals, cosies up to the wealthy and ignores sexual abuse claims within catholic clergy.

How wrong we were.

The man who replaced amateur goalkeeper and former Nazi youth member Benedict XVI was Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first non-European pope for 1,300 years (the last being Pope Gregory III of Syria).

Until very recently, it was hard to find a good word about the Catholic Church in the media. Nuns on the Run was one of the few highs of decades of dismal lows. That has all changed under the new Pope, who has recently been named Time magazine’s person of the year.

He has touched hearts across the globe by embracing people with deformities, reaching out to the mentally and physically disabled, kissing the feet of young prisoners – including a Muslim woman – and launching an attack on the inequalities of capitalism.

But his drive to steer one of the world’s largest institutions could have been a very different story. Apparently, when the Pope was younger he was turned down by a girl he had his eye on and so channelled his grief into becoming the head of the Catholic Church. When I was younger and was rejected by women I used to kick bins on the way home. If I had just got my head down and taken up the sacraments, maybe I could have been the next pontiff! Guess we will never know.

Well, the new Pope didn’t dwell on the past and has used his promotion to raise the issue of the plight of the poor and the disparity in wealth across the globe. His coverage of the unfairness of capitalism is certainly commendable, however, his Argentinian heritage (biggest Catholic market is South America), hiring a former Fox news reporter Greg Burke on media strategy and using the Vatican bank (accused of being the most secretive in the world) to pay for it are classic capitalist methods.

Mr Burke admitted the church does have a marketing plan, he said: “Yes we have a strategy: kick the ball to Francis and he scores the goals! He’s better than Maradona and Messi combined.”

As the old joke goes; God saves, but Pope Francis scores on the rebound. And so far he has hit the back of the net for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

He shunned the spacious papal apartment in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace to live in a small suite in a Vatican guest house and prefers the Ford Focus (the salesmen’s car of choice, whether it is toilet roll dispensers or a worldwide religion it seems) to the traditional Pope’s Mercedes.

There have also been reports he has snuck out in the dead of night to give money to the poor, raising the question of how much the pope gets paid. Theoretically, the Pope has control of all the temporal goods of the Catholic Church, which would make him the richest man in the world, although he does not choose to exercise this power.So if he just lent a tenner from one of the cardinals, then it kind of defeats the object of his twilight good deeds.

However, the majority of his role involves working in an intimidating building, full of sexually frustrated men who are out of touch with reality; a bit like being an MP I guess. But unlike our esteemed elected officials he has political and personal influence over the lives of at least 944,578,000 baptised Catholics; it’s swings and roundabouts!

Since his inauguration Pope Francis has thrown the Catholic Church a lifeline and it needs to seize this opportunity to reinvent the religion. It will take a lot more than ten hail Marys to alleviate the sins within the church.

But before Catholicism regains its swagger, church leaders need to remember that faith is a wonderful thing, but religion is just the administration.  A church is stationary, but parishioners can carry take their belief away with them at any moment, no matter how detailed the Pope’s marketing plan might be.

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