As an evangelical watching the Mass of Inauguration for the man now known to the world as “Pope Francis,” the 266th man alleged to hold that office since the apostle Peter, I considered some of the reasons why Catholicism is so attractive to more than one billion people worldwide. Here are just a few of the reasons that came to mind.
Order. It was admittedly a majestic sight to behold more than one hundred thousand people gather in such an orderly manner in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Italy. The Catholic Church has a long history of being an ecclesiastical and social organization—and it is effective.
Security. Catholic dogma maintains that salvation comes through the church. When a person is baptized into the church he or she is secure, from the cradle to the grave. The church will guide the soul through confirmation, communion, marriage, and when the time comes, administer the last rites assuring passage into heaven. Such security is a powerful attraction.
Power. The “triple crown” of the pope gives him power as “supreme pastor,” “supreme teacher” and “supreme priest.” In the past, pope’s have claimed temporal power over rulers, as well as spiritual power over the church. As the Vicar of Christ, popes believe themselves to be invested with tremendous authority. People are attracted to power.
Pageantry. The pageantry of the Catholic Church is also appealing to multitudes. The colorful clothing, the ascetic music, the burning of incense, the flowing movement of the mass, the Latin liturgy, and more, appeals to the senses. Sights and sounds blend together to seduce the soul of spectators.
Tradition. Because the Catholic Church is one of the most enduring institutions in the world, it has had a prominent part in world history. Palace intrigue is not divorced from papal influence, and multitudes are impressed with the drama of it all, and the abiding traditions of the church. Even when society does not follow the traditional teachings of the Catholic faith, respect is still given to its traditions.
Wealth. Like moths to a flame, people are drawn to wealth, of which the Catholic Church has much. According to Benzinga, a financial media outlet headquartered in Detroit, the Catholic Church enjoys financial assets worth billions of dollars, ranging from famous art and gold assets to more traditional investments like real estate and stocks. Excluding St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, the value of the holdings are reportedly worth nearly one billion dollars. There are many people who love the wealth of the church and like to be identified with it, hoping, perhaps, that some of the wealth will be used to make their own lives a little better.
The Message. An appealing message of the Catholic Church centers on its emphasis on service, love, showing kindness, taking care of the poor and the needy, being tenderhearted, and ready to forgive. These simple but powerful truths, when presented well and modeled, attracts people.
Symbolism. The mystery of the Church has not been lost on the masses. People love a mystery religion full of symbolism. The installation of Francis to the papal office illustrates this. Before the Mass began, Francis received the fisherman’s ring symbolizing the papacy, and a wool stole symbolizing his role as shepherd of 1.2 billion parishioners. Francis also received vows of obedience from six cardinals, a potent symbol of submission by other church officials. A cardinal intoned the rite of inauguration, saying, “The Good Shepherd charged Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep; today you succeed him as the bishop of this church.” There is the majesty of mystery.
As an evangelical, based on personal study of Holy Scripture, I am deeply opposed to much Catholic dogma and many Catholic practices. And yet, I can understand why so many people are attracted to the Catholic faith.