Vatican officials breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when Pope Francis (“Just call me ‘Frank’”) surfaced in Buenos Aires nearly a month after disappearing during the first week of his papacy. The pope said he had spent the month hitch-hiking from Rome to his modest apartment in the Argentine capital in order to “pick up a few things” from his old life as a humble cardinal to his even humbler new life as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics. He said he planned to take a bus back to Rome, and couldn’t say for sure when he’d arrive. “You never can tell with these buses, can you?” the pontiff said. “But don’t worry about me,” he went on. “I’ll just do whatever poor people do when they are unexpectedly summoned halfway around the world to the throne of St. Peter.”
The pope added that he intended to replace that throne with a simple folding chair. “Why should the pope sit in a better chair than its poorest worshipper?” he said, adding that he intended to purchase a new chair as one of his first papal acts. “I’ve got my eye on a nice blue one from Ikea,” he added. “Eight Euros! How do they do it?” Vatican observers said the choice of the color blue was significant. “It will nicely set off the red robes,” said one cardinal, who asked not to be identified because cardinals were warned specifically, on pain of interdiction, not to talk to the press. Interdiction? Maybe it was interaction. Absolution? Introduction? Transubstantiation? At any rate he’ll go to hell if God finds out he spilled the beans. “And I have a feeling God already knows it,” said the cardinal with a sigh.
No one should conclude from this primitive effort to keep journalists from finding out what was going on in the cardinals’ secret conclave that Pope Francis starts his papacy with a negative attitude toward the media. That will only develop over time and further contact, as it does in all men and women who find themselves in positions of power, according to Professor Joseph Ratzinger (“Hey, a fella’s got to eat”) of the Center for Study of the Papacy and the Press of George Mason University (slogan: “Pandering to academic fashion since 1976. If you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got the graduate center”).
Meanwhile, other observers say that the Pope has decided to abandon red robes completely because they send the wrong message, suggesting that the Pope is a Republican. The new pope would like to avoid this association. “Some of the things those people believe!” the pope is said to have lamented to the cardinal seated next to him at dinner the night before his elevation. “I mean, guns in Church? Sheesh! Give me a break.”
The pope has commissioned Old Navy to design a new line of Popeware that is inexpensive but stylish, in keeping with Francis’s “Pope of the People” branding strategy. Gone are “those funny hats,” said a member of the fashion community who has seen advanced sketches of the new line. “Taken together, the new pieces say, ‘I may be Pope, but I’m also a guy. And I know how to have a good time. On the other hand, I am the pope, and don’t you forget it.’”
Of course the Republican Party and the Vatican do not disagree about everything. They are in accord, for example, in opposing gay marriage. A source high in the Vatican said that this was unlikely to change, at least on the Church’s side of things. “We, unlike the Republicans, do not have children of our leaders coming out of the closet and forcing us to rethink the issue. That’s because we don’t have children, for the most part. In fact, we have successfully avoided rethinking many issues that are important to our members for many centuries. And not having children is one reason why.”