the pope
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Pope Francis: Papal Popstar

by Courtney Mizel

I always find it funny when friends come to visit me in Los Angeles that they want to go to places where they can see “stars.”

Admittedly, I am perhaps a little jaded having lived here for close to 20 years and being in and out of the “biz” (briefly as an actor and on occasion a producer). The plethora of beautiful people in this town makes it difficult for me to discern whether or not someone is actually “famous” or just looks familiar because they are a) gorgeous, or b) go to the same Coffee Bean I frequent. However, I am always happy to oblige visitors with a trip to Fred Segal, the Grill on the Alley, or to my daughter’s soccer practice, as she is on the same team with Heidi Klum’s kids.

Growing up, I had the opportunity to meet many prominent individuals: major leaders in business and politics, including 3 POTUSs. I vividly remember a political event at my house involving Al Gore and the balancing of a giant paintbrush on his forehead. And yes, even a few rock and movie stars.

So last year, when I was invited to join a group from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance to meet the Pope, I jumped at the opportunity. Being Jewish, meeting the Pope was not of a personal religious significance (though I was excited picking out rosary beads for him to bless for my many Catholic friends), but I looked forward to being introduced to perhaps the most “famous” and arguably one of the most influential people in the world.

On the day of our official audience, I was overwhelmed with anticipation – what was the etiquette? What would I say? Do I have to kneel or kiss his ring? And of course, what should I wear? I did some quick Google-ing to find out the protocol for meeting this most holy man.

When we arrived at the Vatican and escorted to the room in which we would have our audience, I was struck by the opulence of it all. The marble, gilded ceilings, and the Pope’s “servants” who wore tuxedos with tails. I considered the apparent hypocrisy between the Pope’s representation of his “people” and the relative poverty in which the majority of them live throughout the world. (Of course, this exists in many religions, and whereas some use the differential as a political tool, the Pope is doing his best to encourage his people to keep their faith, even in difficult times.)

After a briefing as to the formalities upon the Pope’s entry, and a much longer than expected wait as we sat fanning ourselves with the official “program” – for all its opulence the Vatican doesn’t have air conditioning — we stood as His Holiness entered the room. Smiling warmly, he apologized for our extended wait. After brief introductions and comments by delegates from our group, Pope Francis made his remarks:

… Today I wish to emphasize that the problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the well being of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected …

After he spoke, we stood in line to be personally greeted and for our “photo opp.” When my turn came to meet him, I was sweating and shaking a bit. I have never been one to be short of words but I simply couldn’t think of a thing to say. I was a bit stunned and distracted by the camera flashes… it was kind of like walking the red carpet and suddenly having a reporter stick a microphone out to interview me and just staring into the camera. Though we only held eye contact for a brief moment, I noticed a depth and kindness in his eyes. As he took my hand to shake it, I simply said “thank you.”

Today, more than a year later, I realize the enormity of the role of the Pope. With everything that was, and is, happening in the world, I have been continually impressed by how this Pope, in contrast to many of those before him, has been willing to take a stand on issues, some of which the Church has never addressed before.

While the Pope used to represent the largest population in the world, the number of Catholics is now smaller than the number of Muslims. With radical Islam on the rise, the Pope has an even more essential role as the thought leader, and more responsibility in preaching tolerance, love and understanding. Every time the Pope gives an address or issues a statement, his message is heard by an enormous audience. This is both an opportunity and a responsibility.

Similarly, we in Hollywood have the opportunity to reach millions of people. The stories we tell and the ways in which we tell them shape opinions and influence people. This isn’t to say that content created purely to entertain isn’t important – with everything we face, being able to escape can be a good thing. However, at some point it seems that we should each take on something that has a deeper meaning and use our skills to educate people, to inform people and even to affect change.

Courtney and the PopeThe photograph of the Pope and me shaking hands adorns the wall of my office along with my University degrees and photographs of Ronald Reagan and Simon Wiesenthal. And while I can always stroll the sidewalk in front of Grauman’s Theater, or go to Griffith Observatory to see “stars,” and while I admit I flushed when my daughter knocked the silverware off of Adam Sandler’s table at breakfast, or that I tell people that Jamie Lynn Sigler shot a scene for Jewtopia in my bed, or that I had the ultimate KISS experience and sat on the plane with Gene Simmons in his bathrobe, none of these encounters could possibly compare with meeting the world’s most well known and most influential star of all – Pope Francis.

Courtney Mizel

About Courtney Mizel

In producing Jewtopia, Courtney Mizel mixes her passion for the arts with business acumen garnered over decades of experience in the entrepreneurial, consulting, sales, marketing and entertainment industries. She is also the Founding Director of the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, and a voiceover artist. Courtney is most proud of her endeavors in the philanthropic world and of her two amazing daughters, Zoe and Isabella.

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