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...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Two Ingredients to Being a Successful Pope

One of the judgements on the character of John Paul II was that he transformed the Papacy from a static, distant, entrenched Luddite office, to a visible, media accessible and technologically savvy one.

Did you know John Paul II once made it known that he websurfed over to the Liverpool FC site one evening?

The next day, when the story broke, a banner appeared on the site: a cheery, tongue-in-cheek greeting in bold gold-on-red background, "Welcome Your Holiness John Paul II!!".

And when the Vatican website launched (on Christmas Day 1995, almost a decade ago...that almost beats eBay!), he made sure his email was accessible to all in the very front page.

His spirit must be happy today, as the Vatican announced the new Papal email for Benedict XVI. In fact not one but 6 official emails.

Deutsch: benediktxvi@vatican.va
English: benedictxvi@vatican.va
Português: bentoxvi@vatican.va
Español: benedictoxvi@vatican.va
Français: benoitxvi@vatican.va
Italiano: benedettoxvi@vatican.va

Drop him a line! Go on, you know you want to.

And we owe this prompt, felicitous coupling of the traditional to the modern to John Paul II's character entirely.

See, John Paul II "got" it.

He understood life and people very well. He realised that to be Pope, in a changing moral clime and with incessant media coverage, well-timed appearances from an avuncular old man made a tremendous visual impact, even if you never got to see him in the flesh.

Maybe two things helped him, but I'm not so sure some people fully understand their impact.

Almost everyone mentioned that he was an ex-actor, and used his acting skills to good usage as Pope. I see what people mean, but to me that always seemed a somewhat backhanded compliment too.

When you act, you're not being yourself. You are projecting something fake. An emotion. A gesture. A smile. When you act, you are trying to skillfully embody an alternate reality, and the best actors do so with such panache that you tip your hat to them.

After all, suspension of disbelief is a very difficult thing to make others do.

And the point with this sweet old Polish man who reigned as Pope for 26 years was making was that he was never acting. He was real. Whatever timing and technique he gained from his University acting days were secondary to the power of his genuineness.

(To anyone who has seen footage of the present Prince of Wales clowning around with his bagpipes in a school review in his Cambridge days, knows not all college acting leaves its mark. He could sure use a little Stanislawsky if you ask me)

The other point is that he had time.

Time blunts the brusqueness of youth. Time allows a person to grow into his or her role. Time takes away youth, and leaves a fragile body, but lovable because we are aware it's imperfect, just like all of us. It's hard to hate a suffering aged body, just as it's impossible not to love the one of an innocent baby.

But even so, Pope John Paul I reigned a mere 33-days, and the few moments the crowds saw of him, they took to their hearts forever calling him "The Smiling Pope". He was very loved for a man the world barely knew.

It seems people prefer a real man to a fake actor. And should he be blessed with time to make his personality resonate, hard edges may yet become soft ones.

How much time will this 78-year old Pope Benedict XVI have? That is the question we all of us wonder about, but none of us know.

Most people comment that he looks enormously spry. He's healthy, to the best of our knowledge. His mind is as trademarked sharp as ever.

Though the press and world media have been brutal to him, should he live 10 years, and I predict he could quite easily reach that or more, we may yet look back at this post and realise...

Time has been kind to Benedict XVI. It allowed him to be more of himself. And people loved him more for it.


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