Can Catholics cope with the popularity inspired by Pope Francis?

Pope Francis (AP)

The Pope has been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013. No this isn’t a hilarious joke taken from ‘Have I Got News For You’ – the leader of the Catholic Church has actually acquired this title from America’s famous news weekly.

The significance of this does not simply depend on how much value we each attribute to this honour, which might be very little indeed. What is more interesting is how Catholics are adjusting to the Church being led by a genuinely popular Pope?

For a very long time Catholics have been programmed, especially in the UK, to be on the defensive. Preparing for the 2010 Papal Visit felt at times like a preparation for battle more than anything else and it took genuine courage for Catholics to proclaim their identity during this time, despite being led by the wonderful Benedict XVI.

But the popularity of Pope Francis, even if the reasons for it are misguided, evokes a slightly alien feeling; that Catholics are finally being accepted. This may be difficult for us to acclimatise to but we shouldn’t waste this opportunity.

Last year, Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize-winning author haughtily asserted that “nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.” With the arrival of Pope Francis I reckon she’d think twice before saying that again.