The glowing coverage of Pope Francis' trip to Brazil includeds headlines dubbing him a "rock star," complete with young Brazilians and other Catholics noting the pope's plain-spoken message; other commentators have noted the nod to evangelical Christianity at the big papal events: impressive staging, light shows, and contemporary music.
All this looks like good news to me–exchanging a scholar pope for a pastoral one looks to have been a good choice. But the danger of a repeat of Pope John Paul II looms here: a return of the papal cult of personality. For all his failings, Pope Benedict was determined to lower the volume on the papal superstardom generated by the long papacy of his predecessor, and we should thank him for it. Too much focus on the pope inflates the papal office and also inevitably inflates the power and influence of the particular individual sitting in St. Peter's chair. Under JPII we saw its deleterious effects, most especially in the diminishment of shared authority among bishops, the centralization of the liturgy, and creeping infallibility that made it almost impossible to have honest conversations about vexing issues in the church.
Pope Francis, for all his popularity, is seemingly steering clear of the excesses of papal superstardom, but this first step onto the world stage–along with the glowing reception–is a mighty temptation away from the simpler path he has chosen. Let's hope all the lights don't go to his head.