AMDG          (An edited version of this first appeared in yesterdays Manchester Evening News )

logoTwiplomacy‘ is the leading global study on world leaders on Twitter. With nearly 80% of presidents, prime ministers and leaders having a Twitter account – communication has never been so direct, theoretically it allows citizens access to their leaders.  Twiplomacy analyses how often leaders tweet, who they follow, how often they are mentioned, retweeted, listed etc.  You may be surprised that the most influential world leader according to them is @pontifex, Pope Francis. Although with over 10 million followers on his different language accounts (the Pope tweets in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, German, Arabic and of course Latin!) he is second to Barack Obama (35 million) – Twiplomacy deem him to be the most influential leader as he is retweeted the most (over 22,000 times a day – to Obamas 2,000).

Commentators are talking about the ‘Francis Effect’.   His simplicity, how comfortable he is in his own skin, his authenticity. He is not a man to be led around by bureaucrats, yes men, spin doctors or dubious “advisors,” but instead follows his own heart.  Most Catholics are amazed that his honeymoon period continues.  As a Jesuit I was quite anxious when he was elected Pope, it is like a member of the family becoming Prime Minister, you are waiting for the flak to start flying – now we are all quietly proud of the job he is doing. It is a breath of fresh air for many Catholics, used to a certain siege mentality and being mistrustful of the media. In a cynical world it seems as though Francis has become a symbol of hope for many – this is a guy who practices what he preaches.

pope-francis-tweetTwo recent lengthy interviews have been caused a great stir in Catholic circles.  The first one – to a consortium of Jesuit Journals including the British on-line journal Thinking Faith caused headlines when he criticised the careerism and the court around the Vatican.  The second interview was to an atheist and founder of the Italian newspaper La Republica. Perhaps most significant in this interview is when Francis talked about a mystical experience he had at the daunting moment of his election.  In his own words ‘I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the ‘”Habemus Papam”.  Some commentators have suggested that this experience may explain both his freedom and his boldness.

As the endless blogs, commentaries and analysis goes on of this remarkable papacy.  One thing is for sure – Pope Francis has the desire and the will to reach out beyond the comfort zone of believers to speak to the whole world – and he is an effective communicator.  For the record – here are some of my favourite quotes so far.

On not following the crowd ‘If you swim against the tide you get strong heart’

On the futility of materialism ‘You never see a removal van following a hearse’

On reform  ‘The church that lives in the sacristy gets sick’

On the environment  ‘Right now, we don’t have a very good relation with creation’

On Vanity ‘Look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth’

On Himself …“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.