A Pope For the Rich?

Victoria Gisondi - Pope Rich


I received a forwarded email today of a picture of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict 16. The picture was split and the Francis side depicted a seated pope in his simple white cassock and white skull cap (zucchetto) in an elegant yet simple cushioned chair of polished wood. The other half of the photo was Benedict seated in a “golden throne” on a red carpet, donning his red leather shoes, red stole and cape (mozetta).

The pictures are intended to be drastic opposites and point out a litany of things that are missing from the Francis side of the photo ending with the red carpet.


The final caption reads, \”He is not interested in fame and applause. Every day we like Pope Francis more!!!\”

They may as well have added \”…more than Benedict.\”

I love Pope Francis. I love his Latin style. Being Cuban myself, I connect to his natural, affectionate approach void of formality. I appreciate that he does things his own way and that he can’t be bothered with some of the whistles and bells to which his office is entitled. Yes, he took a pass on the red leather shoes. He passed on the fancy chair, and he opted out of the living in the Papal residency. Pope Francis is very “Franciscan” and that is his charm.

But does skipping the pomps of his office mean that those before him were wrong or vain or indulgent? Maybe it just me, but that’s the unspoken message I have been receiving loud and clear from media outlets, chain emails and even fellow Catholics. If he is “a pope for the poor” does that mean Benedict was a pope for the rich? John Paul II sat over a red carpet, too, and nobody is insinuating that he is interested in fame and applause.

This attitude is symptomatic of a bigger heart issue. I have often heard people deeply scorn the Church’s opulent cathedrals and vestments as wasteful when the money could be better spent on the poor. In fact, Judas said this too. It’s as if they believe that while poverty exists we should be ashamed at such displays.

Firstly, let me point out that the Church is the largest non-government provider of healthcare services in the entire world. She has opened homeless shelters and hospitals, fed more hungry and cared for more sick than any other organization worldwide. Nobody can claim to care for the poor better than the Catholic Church has or does.

Secondly, people forget that God loves extravagance in worship of Him. Recall Mary of Bethany who poured oil at Christ’s feet. That oil was worth a year’s wages. Jesus was not offended as he did not see it as a waste, rather, He was offended that Judas considered Jesus not worth the waste!

God has a history of expensive taste and rightfully so! He instructed the building of the Ark of the Covenant in acacia wood and gold and spared no expense. Aaron and his priests were instructed to wear robes covered with precious gems to reflect God’s glory. The garment called an ephod was made of linen with gold, blue, purple and scarlet and held together at the shoulder by two onyx stones set in gold. The colors each had their own significance like gold for divinity and purple for royalty, etc. On the breastplate were fastened twelve precious stones in four rows of three. Each stone represented a tribe Israel: The sash was also of blue, purple, and scarlet linen intertwined with golden threads. When a priest was dressed in his garments and sash it meant he was prepared and ready to serve.

In the same tradition, Papal attire is worn during religious services and is rich with meaning. The red shoes symbolize the blood of the martyrs. The white (purity) cassock has thirty three buttons symbolizing the age of Jesus at his death. The staff is obviously a sign of shepherding and the mitre a symbol of authority to teach. The red shoulder length cape known as a mozzetta is symbolic of his political authority as the leader of the Vatican City State. Finally, the chair itself, which is typically painted gold and not truly made of gold, symbolizes the office or “chair of peter”. The chair was a symbol of the teacher in ancient times. It’s just like the post of university professor is referred to as \”the chair”. If there is such a thing as a throne, it belongs to the King of kings, Jesus Christ. The pope sits on it because he is Christ\’s chief steward, set over the Church until His return. (Luke 12:42)

The splendor of the Church\’s aesthetic tradition is intended to arouse in its viewers a love of beauty and to draw the mind towards heaven. We are sensual creatures in that we use all our senses to worship. Our eyes see beauty of the stained glass and beautiful vestments and artwork, our noses smell the incense, we hear the music, etc. God knows this and invites us into the pleasure of it for His sake.

Let’s remember that the pope doesn\’t own the robe, the chair or any Church artifacts, for that matter. They are owned by the entire Catholic Church (therefore by you and me too), and have been dedicated to God. He doesn’t get to take them home at the end of the day!

So, let each man demonstrate his own unique style and gifts to the church as vicars.  And those who scoff and tongue-cluck would do well to remember not to offend God by suggesting He is not worth the \”waste\”. Jesus reminds us that the poor will always be among us. As long as each man do his duty to the church and guides her in her primary work to feed the hungry and care for the orphan and widow and all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, let us not begrudge the bride her proper vestments as she awaits her groom.

© 2013. Victoria Gisondi. All Rights Reserved.

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13 thoughts on “A Pope For the Rich?”

  1. Great Article Victoria, one of our main missions as Christians is to draw people to God. For whatever reason, people are drawn to the beautiful. How well would we be doing our job of bringing people to Christ if we didn’t have beautiful places of worship or the priest said mass with a tee shirt and shorts. We as Catholics want to honor God. Why does a man wash his car every week when it will run just as well covered with dirt? Why does a woman put pictures on the wall? Couldn’t the man donate the money to the poor rather than wash his car? Couldn’t the woman donate the money to the poor rather than buy the picture? Yes we must help the poor but Jesus’s mission was not to feed the poor, it was to draw people to God. Feeding the poor should do both, drawing them to God (which will in most cases improve their lives anyway) and feeding them. We also must worship God and give him our best. For nearly 2000 years, the poor of the Catholic Church would give up what little they had to build beautiful Churches and Cathedrals.

    As we know, the Bible says that the old testament pointed to Christ. Why was God’s temple so opulent when many Israelites were starving? Why were the priests REQUIRED to wear beautiful garments with Gold embroidery etc? God wants us to give him our best, whether it be donating to the poor or donating to a more beautiful and appealing place of worship.

  2. disqus_ylftYU1ikS

    This subject really makes one upset…..You know why Pope Benedict would use the Papel Reglia????

    For quite some time, Blessed J.P.II chose not to use them and that is ok….but we must remember that there is an entire generation that grew up with the plain and simple…Maybe Pope Benedict was trying to tell every one he had his own style…the Orthodox and Byzentine Catholics patriarchs wear golden crowns something like the tiara…..yet not a word is said.
    It is part of there “dress code. Please stop with the attacks on Pope Benedict XVI as he did more for the Church in 8 short years than many popes have done in there pontificate…….Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict remain CLOSE to ones Heart.

    P.S. I love Pope Francis also, a very very very Humble Man!. Viva il Papa! 🙂

  3. It is an old ploy to talk about the “gold” of the Church and compare the “richness” with the “poor children in china who would welcome the strained peas that you won’t eat.” The article is good. Keep it up.

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  6. Yes, I know that the poor will always be with us…but do you really believe that Jesus would approve of gold, art, monuments, real estate, velvet, red carpets, ermine, etc to saving the life of one child in Dafur dying of starvation. The little children were always more important to Jesus than any pomp and circumstance. Could you imagine for one moment the Jesus of Nazareth dressed like a king living in a place…he was one of us…that’s why his message resonates.

    1. Yes I do believe Jesus approves of beautiful things. Did you read the article? It’s not an either/or situation. We can have both.

    2. If we can have both, why are millions of children starving, millions homeless, millions without healthcare…no we can’t have both NOW!

    3. You mistakenly believe that one is the cause of the other but remember Jesus said the pourable always be among us

    4. With all due respect, check on whence comes the money for Catholic health care in the US….much of it from all US taxpayers…Europe would be similar. Medicaid pays for 60% of those in our Catholic old age homes and pays 37% of all childbirths in our hospitals…and private insurance covers most others in our Catholic system. Catholicism contributes only in those cases where nuns and brothers take diminished salaries to help in a largely insurance situation. But nuns are decreasing in number and many nurses now are laity of all faiths. We have to avoid Bill Donahue like bragging about the Church with no figures. Africa is another case but even there one would have to check as to whence comes all monies feeding through a Catholic infirmary…some from Catholic Medical Mission Board but other money may enter also…foundations or government. The Vatican gave $300,000 to Haiti after the quake; Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt gave $1,100,000; US Catholics gave $60 million; Knights of Columbus stayed in the situation and probably were the biggest givers proportionate to their numbers and income. Compare those figures with the 125 million dollars that Dolan must raise to renovate St. Patrick’s Cathedral…a heating deficient structure by the way since heat rises. One can have beauty without tall ceilings which are really appropo to climates south of NY wherein heat is unnecessary.
      You are correct that churches can be beautiful despite poverty because Christ said that…”the poor will always be with you”…IN THE NARD incident folks…we are not Karl Marx…we are Mark’s gospel. That said, keep in mind that Christ
      said the nard was ” for my burial”… not for a second summer palace called
      Castel Gandolfo and helicopter trips thereto. Pope Francis in his past said the vast papal lands of the 18th century were a “deformation of Christianity”. So he is neither Marx nor among those who use the burial nard for every sign of luxury.

    5. Don’t miss the point of the article. Beautiful things are not bad. God deserves all the gold in the world. Catholics help the poor more than anybody else in the world. Take your gripe elsewhere

    6. You need to be more data centric when the topic implicitly requires it…and less touchy.

    7. (1) Vatican movies aren’t as popular as Brangelina stinkers. That’s part of the reason why the Vatican isn’t rolling in dough as you seem to believe.

      (2) Faithful Catholics really believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, they don’t just mouth the words. So He is shown the respect due a Lord and King. That includes both the honors and pomp He is due* and the charity of His followers done in His name.

      *This includes respect shown to His Vicar. That respect is given in order to honor the vicar’s Lord.

      As always, those who understand the Bible are Catholic. It is, you know, a Catholic book. Catholics compiled it, authorized it, preserved it, distributed copies of it, translated it, and published it. If you love the Bible, thank a Catholic!

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