Pope Francis acknowledged Saturday that his reputation pales a bit compared to St. John Paul II — at least as far as Poles are concerned.
Greeting journalists Saturday en route to Lithuania, Francis was given a book about the former pope by Polish photographer Grzegorz Galazka. Receiving the large book with a beaming John Paul on the cover, Francis quipped: “(Pope John Paul II) was a saint, I am the devil.”
Laughing, Galazka immediately corrected him: “No, you are both saints! You are both saints!”
Francis’s quip appeared to acknowledge that he has his detractors, particularly among conservative Catholics who long for the more doctrinaire papacies of John Paul and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
The criticism of Francis by conservatives has grown more vocal recently amid the church’s sex abuse scandals and the distress over his opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion.
Francis is travelling to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to mark the 100th anniversaries of their independence and to encourage the faith in the nations, which saw five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism.
Russia will be the elephant in the room as Pope Francis begins his four-day visit to the Baltics amid renewed alarm about Moscow’s intentions in the region it has twice occupied.
“Fifty years of occupation left their mark both on the church and on the people,” said Monsignor Gintaras Grusas, archbishop of Vilnius. “People have deep wounds from that period that take time to heal.”
Francis landed Saturday in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to begin his trip that will feature encounters with political leaders as well as the Catholic, Lutheran and Russian Orthodox faithful.