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CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, Handout
Pope Francis poses for a selfie with a man after Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Center for Asylum Seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome March 24.

A ‘joyful exchange’ of fun underscores goodwill of those who lead

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published May 12, 2016  | En Español

“Boom!” voiced with the familiar accompanying hand gesture is a modern day expression that has achieved a high degree of popularity. Young people often use it to demonstrate an exclamation of joy, self-satisfaction and confidence. It’s a jubilant gesture.

Recently the gesture was used in a communication between the president of the United States and his wife and some members of the British royal family, drawing attention to the challenge of this year’s Invictus Games, taking place this week in Orlando, Florida. These games benefit the wounded military personnel of many different nations—including the United Kingdom and the United States. The Invictus Games represent a healthy expression of competition that will highlight the valor and the courage of some of our military heroes and heroines. Everything is done in good humor and for a great cause.

The dignity of our president and his wife and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Harry was not compromised by participating in a youthful “trash-talking” exchange. In fact, Queen Elizabeth’s participation in the humorous interchange and her statement of “oh really, please!” was the ultimate endearing comment. It is quite refreshing to see important people engaging in a joyful exchange and not taking themselves too seriously. It helps their public image to be able to be seen as genuinely human and authentic.

It is my firm belief that this is one reason why Pope Francis enjoys such extraordinary public admiration—he’s a pope who smiles and laughs and takes “selfies,” which only serve to reveal and confirm his humanity. He is not the first pope to engage in selfless joviality—Pope John Paul I captivated the world within the too brief time frame of a month simply by smiling, and Pope St. John Paul II happily donned the headgear offered to him by many of the ethnic communities that he visited and often laughed heartily when he did so.

By those actions, these men have all reminded the world that the Petrine office always belongs to ordinary men. None of them could be accused of not taking their office seriously—they simply did not take themselves too seriously.

Leadership has always been a very heavy burden for all those who bear that responsibility.

The task has grown much more difficult as some people increasingly believe that those in authority do not understand or appreciate the struggles of ordinary people.

Yet leadership must never deprive a person of his or her humanity, and public figures have discovered that one way to demonstrate that humanity is to engage in actions that show the world that they have not lost the common touch.

One aspect of leadership may also have become much easier in our modern age of social media. Kings and queens, popes and bishops can display their humanity in ways that Queen Victoria or Pope Pius IX might never have envisioned, thought necessary or certainly even desired.

Today’s global leaders can use the digital world to remind everyone that they, too, can laugh, can be playful, and can identify with many of the same life issues as ordinary people. Such actions draw them closer to the people that they must lead and serve.

Kings and presidents, popes and bishops can grow closer to their people by means of these modern day vehicles of communications, which makes the job that much easier—and in my personal opinion that much more fun! Boom!