Pope Francis has been likened to a rock star before, but now that he's on the cover Rolling Stone, it's official. Oh, and he's also a super hero.A pretty cool graffiti of Pope Francis as "Super Pope" has earned the Vatican's approval. Francis, who became the head of the Catholic church in March, has won over almost everyone at this point. He was Time's Person of the Year. He's the cover story for this month's Rolling Stone. He's everywhere. Now he's swooping in to save the day, like the Man of Steel.
Here's a closer look at the artwork, which popped up in Rome near the Vatican. The text on his bag translates to "values." The red and blue colors on his scarf might read as a reference to Superman, but they're also the color's of the football team the Pope favors, San Lorenzo:
The Vatican liked the mural by Italian artist Maupal (pictured above with his work) so much that they tweeted out a photo of it from the church's official communications account. It makes perfect sense for Catholics to find a renewal in Francis's approach to the papacy, even if the actual effect on church attendance might be overblown. The very laudatory Pope Francis profile in Rolling Stone gives a clue as to what gives for everyone else:
After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis' basic mastery of skills like smiling in public seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic. But he had far more radical changes in mind. By eschewing the papal palace for a modest two-room apartment, by publicly scolding church leaders for being "obsessed" with divisive social issues like gay marriage, birth control and abortion ("Who am I to judge?" Francis famously replied when asked his views on homosexual priests) and – perhaps most astonishingly of all – by devoting much of his first major written teaching to a scathing critique of unchecked free-market capitalism, the pope revealed his own obsessions to be more in line with the boss' son.
Although the Catholic relationship to Benedict is just a bit more complicated than the profile makes out, the fact that the author can have so much contempt for Benedict, and so much love for Francis, speaks volumes. Essentially, Rolling Stone is arguing that Pope Francis does what the entire bureaucracy of the Vatican could not: exemplify the parts of Christianity that are often missed in Western culture war religious discourse. His focus on combating systemic income inequality is a good example of that.
And sure, in an institution that uses symbolism like currency, the Pope is sending a different message. The sleight of hand is impressive. His appeal to many outside of his core followers, particularly the left, should be a lot more troubled than it is, in part because of his staunch adherence to the church's conservative dogma. But the public adoration of Christianity's newest icon is clearly eclipsing almost everything else.