You have to hand it to Pope Francis! In just a few short months since he has been elected, he is redefining not just his role as Pontiff but also what it means to be a hero to millions of people around the world. His opposition to the vast inequalities between the rich and the poor, his mandate to be merciful rather than judgmental and his inclusive attitude has already gained him the title of “The People’s Pope.” Time Magazine and the leading gay magazine, The Advocate, both herald him as “2013 Person of the Year.”
Amazingly, Pope Francis’ words and actions appeal not just to his Catholic constituency but to people of all denominations and level of faith. His approval rating has soared as high as 69% among all people in the United States, 80% of which are not Catholic! He is, without question, a Super Pope.
Is it fair to compare the Pope to a superhero? Probably as fair as comparing superheroes to Jesus Christ who the Pope is said to represent.
Zack Snyder’s film Man of Steel made no bones about comparing Superman to Jesus. Snyder was so heavy handed in his biblical analogies that he probably should have cast The Bible star, Diogo Morgado, instead of Henry Cavill to play Kal El.
In Man of Steel, Superman is sent to Earth by his father to be a god among us. He is raised by common folk, sports a beard, strikes crucifixion poses, walks on water, turns himself over to authorities and sacrifices himself to save the world. This all sounds too familiar to Christians until Superman snaps Zod’s neck and kills him for a reality check.
Comparing Superman to Jesus was previously left mostly to scholars analyzing literature, theology, and modern mythology, not hammered down our throats in comic books or movies.
Since his 1939 debut in comic books, it has been widely acknowledged that Superman’s young creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were heavily influenced by their Jewish heritage and that Superman was their fanciful interpretation of the expected Savior that has been promised by God. This would indicate to Christians, who believe Christ to be the Savior, that Superman is a metaphor for Jesus.
Jesus, however, did did not fly around in blue long johns and a red cape. Though He performed miracles, He did not exhibit the ability to run faster than a speeding bullet, be more powerful than a locomotive or leap tall buildings in a single bound. He definitely did not kill anyone.
Pope Francis, like Jesus does not exhibit bombastic superpowers and, so far, no miracles have been attributed to him, yet. (The Church is a strong believer in miracles that numerous Popes have been credited with.)
As for the colorful uniform, Pope Francis has denounced many of the gaudy Papal accessories that might actually associate him more closely with Superheroes. The new Pope wears simple white garb instead of the lavishly ornate robes, hats and shoes of his predecessors. Instead of a golden throne, he sits upon a plain, wooden one. He has even traded in the famed, bulletproof Popemobile for a used 1984 Renault 4L.
Pope Frances is less like Superman and more like Clark Kent. This is where he redefines the hero. Pope Francis does not elevate the spectacular, he praises humanity. He focuses away from the rich and powerful and embraces that which is common. He recognizes and promotes the power of numbers that is in the hands of the less fortunate. He delivers a message of fairness and sharing that inspires hope more than the symbol on Superman’s chest.
A former nightclub bouncer, Pope Francis speaks the language of the street. He recently responded to Rush Limbaugh’s “Marxist” charges with clever comments that rang around the world:
“The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
When targeting the abuse of Trickle Down Economics he is quoted as saying:
“The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.”
Pope Francis speaks to all people in words they can understand and the people are listening. Does this make him a hero?
Heroes are born out of desparation. Superman was a wonderful remedy for the angst that was post depression, war era America. His popularity peaks in times of turmoil. Today, however, Superman has come to represent that which is all powerful. He is lead by the hand of corporate greed and is immune to the perils of the general population when cities are destroyed during one of his fictional epic battles and now he is willing to kill. Superman has lost his humanity.
We are in desperate times. The global economy pits the rich against the poor in an ever widening gap that Superman cannot close. A new hero is needed but this time he is not delivering a punch but a message. Pope Francis lets us know that the new hero is not among us. It is us! Our power is our humanity. That has always been the true power of all great heroes. Superman has lost this power but it is definitely the power of this new, Super Pope.