MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For more than two hours, the drama unfolded live on every major American TV network.
First, the white smoke. Then the curtains open.
Finally, Pope Francis I emerged.
But as the world watched a man change from being Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Pope Francis I, there was a push back too all of the coverage.
“Who cares?!?! I sure don’t!!!” wrote Paul on Facebook.
“I have a question; why is this news?” added Terri.
“Why do we care so much about a new Pope?” asked Joe Gardner.
Hans Wiersma, a religion professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, had a response.
“I’ve answered that by saying, ‘Yeah, what is the big deal as a Lutheran?’” Wiersma said.
About 90 million Americans are Catholic, but that leaves three out of four Americans not Catholic. But good luck naming any of the leaders of those religions.
“In the religious world, there’s the Pope, and everyone else is sort of an also-ran for sure,” Wiersma said.
Charles Reid, an expert in Catholic law and a professor at University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, chimed in.
“The Pope is a moral leader — he’s like a Dalai Lama,” he said. “The Pope is the most public face we have of Christianity.”
There are 1.2 billion Roman Catholics — that’s 17 percent of the world population. Other Christian religions are about another billion, and the Pope’s policies drive their conversation, according to Wiersma.
“There’s some affinity, still some affection, still some fascination,” he said. “The rest of the Christian world cares.”
But without the spectacle and the mystery of the visuals from Vatican City, this would almost certainly not get the same attention.
“It was a wonderful production,” Reid said. “There’s always spectacle, pageantry, there’s mystery. But I think the intrinsic value is very high.”
Added Wiersma: “The drama! ‘Is it white? It’s white!’ Awesome, you can’t beat it.”
There are also political implications. The Pope is the head of state for Vatican City, and he has a voice in world events.
Pope John Paul II was widely considered to be a hero during the Cold War. The native of Poland visited his homeland in 1979, and encouraged his countrymen and women to not be afraid. Many took that as permission to start the Solidarity Labor movement.