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Is Pope Francis Using PR to Resurrect the Catholic Church?
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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It's Good Friday and I'm waxing ecumenical today. However, the question does demand a closer look. For example, take a look at this picture: Yes, that's Pope Francis sitting in the back of a small church — the Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae — almost anonymously with (wait for it) Vatican gardeners and janitors, according to this story from the Catholic News Agency. This is the same guy with the bulletproof Popemobile, a jewel-encrusted scepter, and all the fancy threads a boy could want. That Pope Francis?! 

It is a picture like that and thoughts like these that have people thinking Pope Francis may put the Catholic Church on its ear for the good...for good. And his life embodied could be considered savvy PR principles by many in the biz: 

1. If you have a title, live it don't brag about it. His name is Jorge Mario Bergolio, a South American Jesuit priest, who just wants to do the job Jesus Christ would wish him to do. Being a Jesuit is a big deal. Aside from the first of his ilk to occupy the Holy See since the order was created by St. Ignatius more than 500 years ago, there's much that goes with that distinction — not Pope, but Jesuit. You see, the Catholic Church had its issues in the 1500s and St. Ignatius of Loyola was not a happy camper about his Church being thrust into the spotlight for its ill-fated woes. He had a military background (which is why the Jesuits are known as "God's Marines" to this day), so he hooked up with six of his buddies from the University of Paris to form the "Society of Jesus." These cats wanted to bring the Catholic Church back to the basics — vows of poverty, chastity, and obediance. And yes, they were sent throughout Europe and the Americas to create institutions of higher learning, more than 75 today like Georgetown University, its first in the United States. Fast forward to today: Pope Francis just goes about his Jesuit business waiting for people to notice...and they have. 

2. If the world is watching, give them something to watch. Have you seen this story, as reported by CNN International? Look at the first picture and you will see Papa Francesco kissing the foot of a prisoner. Why? Because that prisoner resembles what the Pope's job is all about — to bring mankind into an understanding about the humility and transparency of God's Son. I'm not getting preachy, just breaking it down. It's his first week on the job and Pope Francis has spent more time among the people than most Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops of a local diocese do in a month. So far, it is no show. This is how he rolled in South America for years — Jesuits were big into missionary work, which is where Bergolio made his impression on the Catholic Church. 

3. If you can cut back in a tight economy, do so. The Papal Conclave rolls into town and Cardinals from everywhere are staying in hotels around the Vatican. Some with their dibs on the seat jettisoned outside St. Peter's Basilica. Others just want to ensure the guy who gets that seat isn't a tool with loads of baggage. And then there's what Cardinal Bergolio did — he paid his hotel bill as Pope Francis. He could have stiffed the check. I'm sure folk would have understood it slipped his mind, but no, integrity to the core. "How was your stay, sir?" I'd like to think he has a sense of humor and said, "Heavenly." By the way, he prefers to take the bus. (I wonder if the PR team at Greyhound is reading this...that sound you hear is opportunity knocking, kids.) 

4. Finally, if there is a stigma about your gig, blow it away. This is what Pope Francis is doing by being Cardinal Bergolio. He will not forget from whence he came because it appears he is not wired that way. And believe me, the world is watching him to see if he will forget, but this guy is cognizant of that fact and refuses to kowtow to the "man." He will do things differently. He will express himself differently. He may even travel differently. Perhaps that difference is what it takes to get people to pay attention? Sure, the Catholic Church is full of child abuse jokes and handsy priests. That's no secret and Pope Francis doesn't seem to avoid that fact. The only way to get the staff of any company to act a certain way is servant leadership. Ever heard, "It comes from the top down"? I think this Pope gets that. 

Full disclosure: I'm not a practicing Catholic nor do I attend a Catholic church. Fuller disclosure: For those who haven't read my bio, I do hold a Ph.D. in Theology and every once in a while, I get to dust it off and use it for a good ol' fashioned PR story like this. Do I think Pope Francis will fix the ills of this Church? Only time will tell, but as long as there are pictures of him sitting in the back of the church and preferring to ride in the back of the bus, I think it's a Good Friday to say that he is on his way.

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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