Just two months after Pope Francis faced intense backlash for his reforms when critical posters were plastered around Rome, a new set went up around the city over Easter, this time praising the pope for his commitment to mercy and inclusion.
“Thank you Pope Francis! For your true Christian engagement with love and mercy, as demanded by Jesus so often in our Holy Bible.”
This was the phrase written on some 300 posters that were hung April 14 around Rome’s city center and near the Vatican, which will remain until April 22.
Sponsored by The Global Tolerance Initiative, the posters referred to a website called “Love is Tolerance,” which explained that Francis had been named by the organization as their “Global Champion of Tolerance Easter 2017.”
Written in both Italian and English, the posters call on all cardinals, priests and bishops to follow with love the “wise advice” of the pope, and to “read our Holy Bible with open eyes, hearts and minds.”
The posters conclude with an appeal for everyone to “pray for you and the Church with a ‘thinking heart and loving mind.’”
In addition to the text, the posters also feature three black-and-white images of Francis taken during the pope’s historic visit to the Holy Land in June 2014, including one of him in a helicopter and one of his pectoral cross.
The overwhelmingly positive tone of these posters stands in stark contrast to the unsigned posters that appeared in Rome February 4, criticizing Francis for several recent decisions made as part of his ongoing process of reform.
Depicting a sour-faced pontiff, the posters read: “Ah Francis, you’ve taken over congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored Cardinals…but where’s your mercy?”
Whereas the February posters were quickly covered by “abusive posting” signs and removed by the city of Rome, the posters praising the pope have the city’s official stamp of approval, allowing them to stay up from April 14-22.
On the website, The Global Tolerance Initiative said that in addition to the 300 posters that went up around the city, another 700 have been handed out to priests, bishops, students, media and activists in Rome as part of a larger project intended to draw attention both to well-known individuals and the “unsung, hidden champions from different cultures.”
The photos of the pope are part of the “Champions and the Art of Tolerance Project” by Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann – in cooperation with Esra Rotthoff and the recently deceased Tom Lemke – and depict the three photos together in the style of a three-paneled art piece, called a triptych.
Besides Francis, other honorees on the site include the Dalai Lama, teenage Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, and Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jordan.
“We represent the majority of people, not only Catholics, who admire Pope Francis for his crystal clear vision of Christianity with a lovely smiling face of deep humanity,” Hoffman said.
Whether a Christian or not, Hoffman said “he is our Lighthouse of Hope Easter 2017.”
Throughout his pontificate, Francis has been a strong promoter of both ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, speaking frequently about the need to treat others – no matter their differences – with openness and mercy.
Easter was no exception. In his Regina Coeli address on Easter Monday, Francis preached about how Christ’s resurrection brought hope and life into the world, and how we are called to live that out in how we act toward our brothers and sisters around the world.
“In the midst of events that afflict the world,” he said April 17, “in the midst of worldliness that is distant from God,” we are called to show solidarity, welcoming and peace to people.
These are only human signs that we can give, he continued, but “inspired and sustained by faith in the Risen Lord,” we can gain effectiveness “well beyond our capacity.”