So, was that one small carry-on for a pope, one giant leap for Roman Catholics?
Heading off Monday for his first overseas trip, Pope Francis demonstrated the common touch we heard so much about when he was elected pontiff: He waited in line to board, just like the other passengers, and he toted his own luggage up the ramp, just like (too many of) the other passengers.
And, like a lot of us modern folks, Francis had to get in some last-minute social networking before all those electronic devices had to be turned off, tweeting to his followers his excitement about heading off to Brazil to take part in World Youth Day.
Unfortunately, there was no word in The Times' story on whether the pontiff bashed anyone in the knee/elbow/head while negotiating the too-narrow aisle of the modern jetliner to get to his seat and stow his carry-on bag. Nor on whether he flew first class or economy, or got a window or aisle seat.
Or maybe he was seated in an exit row? I don't know about you, but I'd feel pretty good knowing that the vicar of Christ had my back in an emergency.
In any case, Francis offers a marked contrast to his predecessor, Benedict XVI. As Charlotte Allen wrote about the former pope in an admiring Times Op-Ed article in February:
My own fashion sense is nearly nonexistent, but that only makes me more appreciative of Benedict's. Some highlights: Benedict saying Mass in 2008 at Washington's Nationals Park stadium in a billowing scarlet satin chasuble (a priest's outermost liturgical garment) trimmed with crimson velvet and delicate gold piping. Benedict greeting worshipers in Rome, his chasuble this time woven of emerald-green watered silk with a pattern of golden stars. Benedict on Oct. 21 canonizing Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, while attired in a fanon, a gold-and-white striped shoulder covering, dating to the 8th century, that only popes may wear.
So I'm guessing Benedict never carried his own carry-on, if for no other reason than he didn't want to risk scuffing those handmade Italian leather red shoes he favored.
Now, I'm not Catholic, so I don't have a dog in this fight over style. But for a church that's had more than its share of troubles in recent years, especially in the United States, I'm guessing that Francis' "man of the people" approach is a welcome change to Benedict's demeanor.
Still, in one respect, Francis hasn't strayed from tradition: the papal love of elliptical oratory. Speaking on the plane to reporters about unemployment among young people and society's disregard for the elderly, Francis had this message: "A people has a future if it goes forward with bridges: with the young people having the strength to bring it forward and the elderly, because they have the wisdom of life."
To which all one can say is: Can't argue with that.