Hate to break it to you, Saint Bernardino of Siena, but Pope Francis is the real patron saint of communications (if not “compulsive gambling” and “respiratory problems”).
Why, you ask? He’s only been Pope for a few months, and he’s already well into the project he’s prepared for his whole life: rebranding the Catholic Church for the 21st century.
The guy is, quite simply, a PR genius. Let’s review 10 reasons why.
1. He named himself after St. Francis of Assisi
He’s the first Pope Francis, and St. Francis was basically the original hippie. Raised rich, he chose to become a beggar, eschew all earthly possessions and live a solitary life communing with nature and straight up talking to animals like a scruffy Dr. Doolittle. You can’t get any more humble or anti-materialist than this dude.
What we’re saying is that the name alone sends a very strong message.
2. He auctioned off his Harley Davidson for charity
First of all, who knew the Pope rode a Harley? Second, he auctioned it off to benefit the homeless. Third, he blessed it in front of a crowd of leather-clad bikers, so he doesn’t judge others by their fashion sense. Badass.
3. He expelled the ‘Bishop of Bling’ from the Church
Just this week, Francis temporarily expelled a German bishop known as ‘Bling’ for spending a whopping $42.7 million on his own completely ridiculous house! Can you say “reputation management?” (Photo via Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)
4. He’s cool with the ladies
This is relatively speaking, of course: he still doesn’t think women should be priests, but he “horrified” some of the traditionalists in his organization by saying that women have “fundamental value”, and he also said:
“Women play a role that’s more important than that of bishops, or priests. How? This is what we have to explain better publicly.”
In other words, we need to better communicate how much we value the women in our Church.
5. He’s cool with the gays
Let’s just say that, compared to every other Pope in history, Francis might as well be officiating at gay weddings. In August, he took the opportunity to tell the Church to rededicate itself to helping the poor and stop focusing on sex and culture war issues—and polls show that most American Catholics agree. He even said “who am I to judge” gay priests, suggested that they should not be “marginalized”, and argued that a lack of conversation on the issue “always feeds homophobia.”
6. He’s not cool with the Mafia
The Church has received some bad press for “tolerating” La Cosa Nostra in the past, but Francis recently beatified a priest killed by gangsters and used the ceremony to tell the mob to “convert their hearts.”
We bet he’s the only person in the world who has never argued over whether the second Godfather is better than the first (though this usually happens after a few beers, so there’s that).
7. He washes the feet of prisoners
Remember this incident? He didn’t just wash prisoners’ feet, he kissed them too! It was scandalous at the time, but Francis was like, “Chill, you guys—I’m all about the little people.”
8. His product rollout campaign was perfect
This one is more about the Vatican than Francis himself. Still: colored smoke + huge crowds + emoticons = PR Win.
Just look at him taking the stage for his grand introduction:
This is a man who knows how to make an entrance and needs no coaching on media relations.
9. He rules Twitter
Pope Benedict may have been the first to tweet from the official Vatican feed, but Francis owns it. Check these out:
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) July 25, 2013
He loves sports, knows his way around a hashtag…
With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 3, 2013
…and hates chemical weapons. He even met with the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Can Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga top that?
10. The Shoes
Pope Benedict never actually wore Prada, but he was famous for looking fancy. Just compare his choice in footwear:
To that of his successor.
Nobody’s perfect, and one could argue that Francis still has a ways to go on some fronts. But after seeing him display his genius for communications, reputation management and CSR, we have to give him respect. Good work, Your Holiness—we lowly PR professionals can all learn from your example.