The German media take a lively interest in Pope Francis, and comparisons to his predecessor, their countryman Benedict, are inevitable. “Christmas under Pope Francis: More Humility, Less Bling,” Der Speigel writes. “The higher-ups are disempowered, the state apartments are empty, velvet and silk stay in the closet – Pope Francis celebrates simply. Many in the ecclesiastical state long for the good old days.” His spontaneity is feared at the papal court, and some wondered whether he would go after the Christmas Mass in the Night to give food to the poor at Sant’ Egidio. (He didn’t, as far as we know.)

Pope Francis gives his first Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and Word”) blessing.

Pageantry is out, Der Spiegel notes. Velvet and silk regalia has seen its day, and now bishops and cardinals opt for a modest look, just like Bergoglio. Gold crosses stay in the cabinet. Iron, or silver at the best, is the order of the day. Feet must get used to cheap black shoes. One wouldn’t want to fall into disgrace.

Pope Benedict giving the “Orbi et Orbi” blessing.

Clerical clothiers in Rome are in mourning. In Benedict’s day they had boom times –pompously big mitres were the thing, and they could well cost $8,000 (6,000 euros). One needed a few of them, appropriate to various occasions. Now cheap is called for. Back when cardinals imitated Benedict, they put out as much as $25,000 (18,000 euros) for cardinals’ get-up. Now, the tailors complain, clergymen limit themselves to $800 (600 euro) outfits. Pomposity is no longer in season. (Der Spiegel doesn’t say so, but it is worth recalling that whatever his liturgical and sartorial tastes, Benedict XVI lived quite modestly.)

A high-ranking prelate was caught waiting for his chauffeur, Der Spiegel claims, and Pope Francis scolded him, “Why don’t you go on foot?”

People in the Vatican speak of “papastroika,” a play on Gorbachov’s perestroika (“restructuring”) that turned the Soviet Union upside down. Nothing seems impossible, everything is called into question.

European ecclesiastics fear losing influence, according to Der Spiegel. For Francis has a global church in view. Only a fourth of all Catholics live in Europe. Cologne may still well be the richest diocese in the Catholic world – but the Catholic future lies elsewhere.

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Pope Francis’s approval ratings are sky high, CNN reports. A CNN/ORC poll just released found that 88% of American Catholics approve of Francis. And nearly three-fourths of Americans in general view him favorably.

More than 85% of American Catholics say Francis is neither too liberal nor too conservative, and 86% say he’s in touch with the modern world. By comparison, more than half of American Catholics said Pope John Paul II was out of step with the times in 2003, near the end of his 26-year-long papacy, according to CNN .

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