Pope Francis has acquired a level of mainstream celebrity that even his most well-liked predecessors did not, largely due to his bold efforts at modernizing the Catholic Church that for decades has been viewed as an antiquated and rigid institution. But his star power runs deep in the church too, evident during a Naples visit when Pope Francis was mobbed by really excited nuns as he arrived at the city's cathedral to speak to priests, nuns, and seminaries.
A group of cloistered nuns, who were given special permission to attend the event, gave the pope a standing ovation as he entered the cathedral, then proceeded to surprise everyone when they eagerly crowded around a bemused Francis to meet him and present him with a gift. Attempting to restore order, the Archbishop of Naples said, to booming laughter in the cathedral:
Sisters, later... Well would you look at that. And these are the cloistered ones. Just imagine the non-cloistered ones.
They are going to eat him! Sisters... sisters!
Cloistered nuns observe "papal enclosure," rarely leaving their convents and typically greeting outside visitors through a partition. The group that enthusiastically greeted Francis consisted of nuns from seven different closed convents in Naples but had been given exclusive permission to attend the pope's one-day visit to the city, The Telegraph reported.
In his speech at the cathedral, Francis highlighted the challenges of living in a close-knit religious community. Having previously condemned gossip as a form of "terrorism," he again reiterated his disdain for the habit. Expressing strong disapproval, Francis said:
The person who gossips is a terrorist who drops a bomb, destroys, and they are outside – at (the) least they did a kamikaze... They destroy others.
Francis' lively reception marked a lighthearted moment as he ventured deep into mafia territory. His visit also saw him sit down with inmates in a Naples prison, among them a number of gay, transgender, and AIDS patients, for an unplanned lunch event. Speaking to some 100,000 people who gathered for Mass in a city rife with corruption and crime, AFP reported that Francis preached:
Corruption stinks, corrupt society stinks... We all have the potential to be corrupt and to slip into criminality. Convert to love and peace. It is always possible to return to an honest life. There are mothers weeping for it in Naples' churches.
The incident at the Naples cathedral was not the first time the pope encountered such a fervent reception. During his 2013 visit to the Brazilian town of Aparecida, one nun dashed forward to embrace Francis and take a photo with him, prompting about 40 others to follow suit. The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, told Associated Press that the scene was "one of the most remarkable things" of the pope's visit.
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