wineryVATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has upended many traditions during his extraordinary pontificate, to the point that some have wondered whether he is really Catholic.

But the pope made one thing clear: he is not a Southern Baptist.

Addressing pilgrims at his weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square in June, Francis reflected on the wedding feast of Cana during which Jesus turned water into wine, the first miracle of his public ministry.

That was a crucial symbolic action to demonstrate he was the husband of the people of God, Francis said — an episode that reflects of God’s love and also shows how wine is central to marking the joy of a new marriage.

“How is it possible to celebrate the wedding and have a party if you lack what the prophets indicated was a typical element of the messianic banquet?” the pope asked.

“Water is necessary to live, but wine expresses the abundance of the feast and the joy of the celebration. And a wedding party which lacks wine — the newlyweds feel ashamed of this,” the pontiff said.

Then he added: “But imagine finishing a wedding party drinking tea — it would be shameful! Wine is necessary for the celebration.” The pope himself is not much of a drinker, though he enjoys a glass now and then.

But his theology of wine might not win him favor with some of his abstemious Protestant friends, such as members of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has passed more than 50 resolutions on the negative effects of alcohol.

The fast-growing Assemblies of God movement also prohibits its ministers from drinking and encourages members to abstain. The United Methodist Church, on the other hand, once required all clergy to sign an abstinence pledge, but the practice was abandoned decades ago.

For Catholics and other, more traditional churches, wine is essential to the Mass — reflecting its use in the Last Supper — and it is a long-standing part of Catholic culture in most places.

Those are likely some of the reasons that the Vatican — a city-state of just a few hundred permanent residents — has the world’s highest per capita wine consumption.

According to 2014 research by the California-based Wine Institute, the amount of wine consumed in the Vatican amounts to almost 20 gallons for each resident annually. NFJ

By Rosie Scammell, Religion News Service