P.T. Barnum gave us Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale. The Vatican has given us the Pope of Peace, headed for Egypt later this month. And the Pope of Hearts will perform at Fatima in May. The show is on the road. How much longer before we have The Singing Pope?
Light opera will do. With Laudato Sí in mind, a libretto in the spirit of the “Major-General’s Song” in The Pirates of Penzance would suit: “I am the very model of a modern Major-General, / I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral.”
Amoris Laetitia presents more subtle complications but lines from HMS Pinafore might point the way: “Let the air with joy be laden, / Rend with songs the air above, / For the union of a maiden / With the man who owns her love.” The librettist will have to add something about the proprietary lover’s previous wife, the abandoned Buttercup. It will not be easy. But Cardinal Ravasi’s Ministry of Culture surely has a few songsmiths poised to do a taffy-pull on: “Nevermind the why and wherefore, / Love can level ranks, and therefore . . .”
What can level ranks can level dogma. Much is in the wording. But there is more between the lines.
What brings comic opera to mind are the celebrity posters created to promote the pope’s upcoming junkets. As graphic design, both are eye-sores. Banal sugar water. Both are made in the saccharine mode of Saint-Sulpician piety—a cue to the level of lay sensibility which this pontificate boosts and applauds. It is a sensibility that is insensitive to distinctions between a hero and a celebrity, between the valorous and the merely pleasing.
That feel-good heart on the Fatima poster is risible. Together with the grinning image of Papa Francisco, it subordinates the meaning of Fatima to the individual personality of Francis himself. I cannot help but see this image of Francis, in mufti, as a crafted analogy to Lucia’s Lady in white. Francis, our new oracular presence, is costumed for alignment with the apparition rather than with the papal office.
The demands of humility would have been better met by removing the pope’s figure from dominance. Or, if he must appear, let the regalia of office honor the occasion.
The Lethal Fallacy of Cultural Equivalence
Then there is the stunning unreality of the promo for the pope’s trip to Egypt:
Where to begin? The chutzpah of this pitch is disorienting. The Pope of Peace. The laurel ups the ante on delusional papal attributes. Let us not recount the Pope of Peace’s pacifying effects in the Middle East; or the sweet reasonableness of his attraction to the Castro thugs. Ask the Venezuelans about his efficacy in support of Nicolás Maduro. Ask yourself how the world benefits from his placatory affection for other pro-Marxist regimes in Uruguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
Let us stay with the graphics. The papal hand performs a double gesture. It is raised in blessing while it simultanelously appears to release a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit in centuries of Christian art (and sometimes depicted as issuing from the hand of God). Might there be more than a hint of hubris in that? If so, it cannot be any worse than conjuring an imaginary Egypt of Peace. What the ever-bleeding Coptic Christians think of that phrase, it is not hard to imagine.
The cross and the crescent, evocative of the Islamic star and crescent, is ominous. In a confused gesture of multi-cultural naiveté, the poster represents an unintentional parody of the logo of the Ottoman Empire:
On March 31, Vatican Radio burbled this bit of anodyne explication:
The Cross and Crescent Moon at the center of the logo represent the coexistence between the various components of the Egyptian people.
A white dove signifies peace, which is both the highest gift to which every human being can aspire and the greeting of monotheistic religions.
Finally, the dove precedes Pope Francis to announce his arrival as the Pope of Peace in a country of peace.
That last sentence is a zinger. The dove precedes. Jesus had the Baptist; Francis has the Dove of Ages. Does no one at the Vatican Press Office have an ear for cant?
Yes, Muslims and Christians can live together, but only under conditions of servitude for the Christians. Islamic greetings of peace, like Islamic charity and hospitality, are directed at other Muslims, not at infidels.
Inhaling the smoke of his tie-dyed peace pipe, Francis refuses to grasp an essential truth: Only the West believes in the equivalence of cultures. Islam believes in its own superiority over all other cultures and peoples. Francis’ determined resistance to the truth of things undermines the very Church he is ordained to protect. He acquiesces in the gradual subjection of the Christian message to secular orthodoxies of diversity and multiculturalism.
Spiritual capital—like political capital—once surrendered, is not easily regained. If at all.
Bumper Sticker Comity
It was only a few days ago that Francis addressed the Standing Committee for Dialogue Between the Papal Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Superintendents of Iraq. Gifts were exchanged. Francis received a lovely edition of the Koran, was robed in the costume of an imam, and dubbed “Pope Sheik.”
One more pope in the vein of our Pope of Peace and St. Peter’s will go the way of the Hagia Sophia.