The way I know it, Alitalia has stopped long ago to put an aeroplane at the disposal of the Pope for free, and they have started to demand that aeroplane be chartered at market rates instead. The Vatican obliges, and recovers the costs by selling expensive tickets to the journalists travelling with the Pope. This allows the journalists in question to stay at the core of the action, and the Pope even comes to say “hello” and have a chat with the boys and the occasional girl during the flight, obviously “off the record” before madness came to power.
I am, therefore, not scandalised for the star cook or the luxury meal, as by the price of those tickets it would be the height of the stinginess to offer beans and tuna fish from the can, with the accompaniment of freshly sliced onion.
I also understand the Pope will have to travel with a degree of privacy, and will have to be able to sleep in total comfort. After all, he is the Pope.
But then this very Pope who travels with all the privileges due to his rank asks that a small Kia car be put at his disposal for his movements in Korea, ostentatiously displaying a “poverty” he does not live whenever cameras are away.
This Pope lives in a way not appreciably different from the way his predecessors lived. He occupies an entire floor of an hotel, causing costs and inconveniences his predecessors would not dream of causing. He travels first class on his own chartered aeroplane, and I have even read – but it must have been a mistake or misunderstanding – that on his way to Korea he kept the entire first class for him, Billionaire-style. He eats the same gourmet food as the others. He certain did not reside, whilst in Korea, in a Bed & Breakfast.
But then, whenever some cheap theatre for the benefit of the gullible can be had he is all for it. From the cobbler to the newsagent, from the wheelchairs to the invalid children, and from the minivan to the Ford Focus no trick is too cheap for him, no stunt too populist, no rhetoric too over the top.
If Francis wanted to practice what he preaches, he would take the bus from St Peter to Termini station. From there, a direct train line would bring him to Fiumicino airport. Second class, if you please, and harassed by the gipsy beggars like everyone else. Security concerns are, obviously, not an issue for the Pope Of The Poor. Who would want to harm him? He refuses the armoured car, doesn’t he? Let the poor around him be his shield. Let him be one of them, among them. St Francis, poverty, humility, and all that.
Once in Fiumicino, he can queue to his check-in for his second-class flight and, once this is done, wait on one of the endless rows of seats until his plane is called. He can have a walk every now and then. Greet people. Embrace wheelchairs. Read some Kueng. Things like that. Let him queue like everyone else, Argentine passport in hand, and take place in the seat he has booked, himself of course, on His favourite travel site.
I know, the leg space isn’t great; but hey, small Kias aren’t much better, either; and where’s the poverty, if one does not share the hardships of the poor? And look at how easy it is: no aeroplanes to charter, no journalists to host, no gourmet tickets to prepare. The humble Francis can have a sandwich, and a bottle of mineral water; or, if he wants to splurge, there’s always McDonald’s, certainly a familiar venue to small Kia drivers the world over.
Once arrived in Seoul, though, Francis is a guest. I understand, therefore, that the bus might not be appropriate. This is where the small Kia comes in, and fits in the picture.
What have we seen of all this? The Kia only, and that one surrounded by photographers. For the rest, this one here is the Renaissance Prince all right. Apart from the fact that he isn’t, of course, and thinking of him words like “boor” come rather more easily to mind.
This is Francis’ hypocrisy. Not in his living as a Pope, but in his living as a Pope and feigning monastic lifestyle. Not in the big apartment, but in having it in a hotel in a shameless show of pretended humility. Not in the first class travel, or the chartered aeroplane, or the gourmet meal; but in the Kia at the airport, the minivan, the damn Ford Focus, and the old Renault 4 he obviously uses – if he does – when the poor walk.
The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. But then again this mind-boggling hypocrisy only works, and brings him huge popularity, because of the mind-boggling thickness of those unable to see how cheap Francis’ tricks are.
I never had great confidence in humanity’s smartness at large. Christ was insulted by the same mob who had hailed him only five days before. Most prophets were killed. People now approve of sexual perversion in unthinkable numbers only one generation ago. But one must say that Francis’ papacy has brought in front of us the misery of the human condition, and the utter stupidity of the greater number of sheep, in very vivid colours.
Alessandro Manzoni famously wrote that the masses are like an ox: dumb, and easily led.
One must recognise that literacy hasn’t changed anything in that.