Before I start this article, I need to say: I LOVE POPE FRANCIS! Ok. Now that I have expressed my feelings, let’s get to the news.
In 2018, Pope Francis had a pre-synodal meeting in Rome, with about 300 young people from different continents. Some had the opportunity to ask questions, including seminarian Yulian Vendzilovych, from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church. He asked:
In your opinion, how should a young man, who is preparing for the priesthood and want to be open to today’s youth and culture, be prepared to understand what is valuable in culture and what is false? For example, tattooing, for one group of people, expresses true beauty, but for another it is an example of culture that is difficult to accept and understand. How should a young pastor react to the complex circumstances of today’s culture?
Pope Francis’ said THE PROBLEM IS THE LACK OF TEMPERANCE, THE EXAGGERATION, and not the tattoo itself:
Don’t be surprised by the tattoos: (…). Yes, there are exaggerations, today I see some … (…) No, when you exaggerate… but it is an exaggeration problem, not a tattoo problem. The tattoo indicates belonging. You, young man, tattooed like that, what are you looking for? Which belong do you express? And start talking about it, and from there you get to the youth culture. Is important. But don’t be surprised: with young people you should never be afraid, ever! Because always, even after things that are not so good, there will be something that will bring us to the truth.
– Pope Francis, 03/19/2018. Source: Vatican website
Personally, I think a discreet and tattoo-free appearance, is more appropriate for any Christian. But the problem we face today, as catechists, youth group leaders or priests, is another: how to welcome a person who was not a Catholic and who already arrives tattooed from head to toe? Shall we expel him?
Unfortunately, influenced by Catholic preachers with a more rigid view (and that does not reflect the Church’s doctrine, nor its history), many are demonizing and discriminating tattooed brothers.
Once, while talking to a catechist friend, I found out that she guided all of her tattooed believers to wear clothes that fully covered their tattoos. If the guy had his arm all tattooed, he should always wear a long sleeve shirt, to cover those shameful symbols of the “culture of revolt and sadomasochism”.
Well, my friend and I had a long conversation about the countless crusaders tattooed with the cross, about the custom of Christian tattooing in many Eastern Catholic communities, about the tattoo on the chest of Blessed Henry Suso …
It is true that many tattoos can even represent “things not so good”, as Pope Francis rightly pointed out. But you don’t have to be scandalized or demonize. That drawing on the skin can be a point of dialogue about what the person wants for himself, for his life; what your heart really yearns for. And so you can start from something “not so good” to arrive at something that really deserves to be valued.