ANALYSIS: Pope Francis, the improbable pop culture icon

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Cover of the July issue of Vanity Fair in Italy.

Photo courtesy of the Italian Vanity Fair website

Cover of the July issue of Vanity Fair in Italy.

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(RNS) Cultural icons surge and retreat like tsunamis. But even in this viral era, lightning international popularity with a moral message is something unusual. Since the dawn of broadcast media, who else has managed this trick as well as Francis when starting with so little in the way of fame?