What’s your take on the pope’s rock-star-like appeal?

Local religious leaders (and an atheist) weigh in on the pope’s popularity

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Fr. Peter Hansen

St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church, Chico

“As an Anglican, I cannot judge another man’s servant. The record of His Holiness, Pope Francis I, from his choice of names to paying his own hotel bills, is refreshing. His obvious love of the poor parallels the first Francis. A mixed reception—beloved of the underclasses, threatening the establishment—is to be expected, especially from a South American Jesuit. (He’s called a Marxist by some.) He surely is shaking things up, but on the major faith notes, so far he’s solid. Everybody would like a look at his playbook. No dice. I watch him with great interest.”

Rabbi Dr. Julie Hilton Danan

Congregation Beth Israel, Chico

“Pope Francis is widely loved and respected because he preaches—and more importantly, lives—a life of true humility, inclusiveness and love. Pope Francis has reached out to the Jewish community, both in official statements and in his personal life. He wrote, ‘The friendship which has grown between us [Catholics and Jews] makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.’ While still a cardinal, the pope co-authored a book with a close Argentinean friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka. The two continue their friendship, dialogue and work for Mideast Peace. A personal anecdote will show how far the pope has reached beyond his own faith. While visiting Los Angeles last weekend, I attended a local synagogue service with my daughter and her baby. When the baby started to fuss, she leaned over and whispered, ‘Is it OK to nurse him here?’ Before I could respond affirmatively, she replied herself, ‘Pope Francis says that it’s fine to nurse a hungry baby during Mass!'”

George Gold

President of Atheists of Butte County

“The rock-star status is made up by the media. He’s a person who represents ongoing policies that subject gays to exclusion and ostracization; they’re denied their equal rights. [Pope Francis] hasn’t changed that much. There are still molestation scandals going on all over the world. Not last year, not 10 years ago—it’s going on today. Talk about a sin! Not only to not speak out about it, but to not do something about it. He hasn’t done a thing. Rock star? I don’t think there’s anybody from the secular community who considers him a rock star.”

Pastor Dave Vallelunga

Trinity United Methodist Church, Chico

“I’ve been very impressed and pleased with his work and his boldness. I think that like a lot of reformer kind of people he’s intentioned within the system that brought him into position and elected him. Nevertheless, he feels like all the reformers in the history of the faith who call to make something more important than just the earthly conventions that we’ve developed around things. He is setting the bar considerably higher and I think that is good. I think my Catholic friends, all the ones I’ve talked to, are really quite pleased. I think he’s going to do all he’s allowed to do and push it as far as he can push it within the confines of what people will let him do. I think he is really on the right track.”

Pastor Steve Schibsted

Bidwell Presbyterian Church, Chico

“It is very interesting to me how the world has responded so positively to Pope Francis. Interesting because the controversial positions of the Vatican that often go against majority cultural opinion—stands on things like abortion, same-sex marriage and the ordination of women—haven’t really changed. What’s changed is the attitude. Pope Francis is strong on his positions but seems open to dialogue. More importantly, he is humble and willing to listen to differing opinions. From what I can tell, Pope Francis is a servant leader and full of integrity. He genuinely loves all people, including the marginalized, the poor and the outcasts. It seems to me that most people, both inside and outside the church, know that this is what Jesus did and therefore what our church leaders also should do. Pope Francis is focusing on what the church should focus on and is trying to avoid issues that divide people. In that sense, he is a bridge builder and a very good one at that! He is a great spokesperson for the church of Jesus Christ.”