I am a completely lapsed Catholic. Well, maybe I’m more than lapsed. I was raised Catholic but I haven’t gone to church regularly or considered myself religious since I told my parents when I was eleven years old that I didn’t think I believed in Catholicism. To their credit, they actually respected my point of view and let me stop going to church/Sunday school instead of saying “Um, we’re Catholic and you’re an eleven-year-old child so you’re Catholic, too.”
Despite that fact, I still follow the goings-on of the Catholic church with some interest (And I still love going to Christmas Eve mass and singing my heart out to “O Come All Ye Faithful.” And I have a whole thing about the Virgin of Guadalupe, but that’s a topic for another day.) I’ve been pretty fascinated by the conversation around our new pope, Pope Francis. So far, I like what I see (In so much as I can like the head of an institution that’s one of the biggest historical causes of misogyny and sexism and continues to be against contraception, of course). His latest awesome move, aside from reacting adorably to an adorable toddler? Showing his support for public breastfeeding.
In an interview with Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa, the pope said:
There are so many children that cry because they are hungry. At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past.
The mother was caressing it. I said to her: “Madam, I think the child’s hungry.”
“Yes, it’s probably time…,” she replied.
“Please give it something to eat!” I said.
She was shy and didn’t want to breast-feed in public, while the pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.
Awesome, right? I mean, in some ways it’s not surprising that the head of the Catholic church (which is pretty traditional, let’s not forget) is in favor of breastfeeding. You know all those Renaissance paintings of Mary breastfeeding Jesus? Yeah, lactation is apparently a symbol of “God’s love for humanity” according to David Gibson, who wrote about the pope’s words for Religion News Service. But at the same time, it feels daring and rare and dare I say it, radical, for the pope to encourage a woman to show her breasts in public to feed her child.
KJ Dell’Antonia at the NYT blog Motherlode points out:
One can question whether the pope’s message is about breast-feeding or about hunger — or both — but at a moment when many might have agreed that a baby should be discreetly removed for feeding, Pope Francis encouraged the mother to nurse her child. He has also been photographed kissing an infant while another mother breast-fed her baby just a few inches away, apparently without blinking an eye.
That’s powerful. It remains to be seen whether Pope Francis will actually enact any serious changes within the hierarchical, patriarchal system of Catholic beliefs (After all, some of those things are kind built into the belief system), but every time I read something about him, I feel encouraged.
Photo: Getty Images/Tumblr/Julia Sonenshein