Pope Francis and President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet on March 27. Visits between powerful heads of state is nothing unusual – in this case, between the self-proclaimed leader of the free world and the leader of world-wide Catholic community. But recently, both men have become leaders of another community, the Internet, where both Obama and Francis have taken selfies that have captured the world’s attention and gone viral.
Both men have a strong social media presence, including Twitter and Instagram accounts. And Pope Francis has recently launched a print tabloid-size newspaper, including a glossy pull-out centerfold photo.
This will be the third trip to the Vatican for President Obama, but his first meeting with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, or Pope Francis.
Until he was recently upstaged by the selfie taken at the 2014 Oscar Awards by Ellen DeGeneres, President Obama had the record for most retweeted photo. A photograph of him and Michelle, hugging, after Obama had won the re-election was retweeted over 640,000 times.
Several of the president’s selfies have made front page news recently, but not in a good way. A selfie that he took along with the British prime minister David Cameron and the Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at the memorial for South African president Nelson Mandela caused something of a tabloid scandal when photos from the event showed what looked like a very displeased First Lady.
The photo led to a round of speculation at best, tongue-lashing at worst, about whether the president had lowered the dignity of the office with these kinds of photos.
But another recent selfie with Obama, astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson and scientist Bill Nye seems to have helped the president’s popularity, at least with the science community.
Pope Francis is no stranger to selfie stardom either. Unlike his immediate predecessor, Francis seems to have more of the “common touch”, which of course lends itself to taking a selfie. In addition to famously forsaking some of the more expensive trappings of the Holy See, he has been photographed letting children play with his nose, hugging a physically deformed man, and directly phoning a rape victim. He created something of a scandal last year when he broke with a tradition of Holy Thursday by not only washing the feet of men, but women as well.
Recently, the Pope took a moment, after his weekly general audience, to take a selfie with some newlyweds. And in March of this year, he took what is being called the first Papal selfie with a group of Italian teenagers. Both images went viral.
With a meeting scheduled for March 27, Pope and president watchers are speculating about what the two men will talk about and how the meeting will be received. Some have emphasized the common ground between the two, citing their dedication to social justice. While others have emphasized the difference between the two, on issues like abortion. But you can bet that if Obama and Francis, two of the most powerful people on the planet, take a selfie, it will go viral.
By Dan Reyes