Anyone who looks at public breastfeeding as a sexual shame-fest should have a word with Pope Francis. The forward-thinking pontiff, in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa this week, gave the controversial practice his holy stamp of approval.
In a discussion with reporter Andrea Tornielli about hunger, the pope shares a story about how he’d recently seen a mother standing behind the public barriers at the Vatican, holding a baby who had begun to cry.
“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 breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing,” he says in the La Stampa interview, released over the weekend. “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.”
It was a powerful statement for anyone who’s ever been judged for nursing her baby when and where she pleased. “In essence, what he’s done is normalize breastfeeding,” Marsha Walker, executive director of the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, tells Yahoo Shine. “And that is probably more powerful than a lot of the campaigns we do and the crusades we go on.”
Twitter users were wonderfully pleased, giving “hats off” to the pope and calling him “great” and “noble.”
It’s just the latest in a long line of refreshingly open-minded sentiments expressed publicly by the pope, who was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” earlier this month. Since being elected in March, he has spoken out about supporting women in heftier religious roles, warned against Catholics being “obsessed” with abortion, said he is “no one to judge” gays and lesbians, and has continually shunned trappings of wealth with gestures like driving an economy car and living in a modest guesthouse.
But perhaps most importantly, he’s a vocal advocate for love and empathy. “When Christians forget about hope and tenderness, they become a cold Church that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes,” he tells La Stampa. “I become fearful when Christians lose hope and the ability to embrace and extend a loving caress to others. Maybe this is why, looking towards the future, I often speak about children and the elderly, about the most defenseless that is.”