Pope for the future?
Out with the old and in with the… old” cracked one Vatican watcher on hearing the news of the election of a 76-year-old Argentinian, the first Jesuit and Latin American to ascend the throne of Peter. The choice of Jorge Mario Bergoglio (150 -1 with Paddy Power on the eve of the conclave) left us all open-mouthed. And the early signs suggest this may be the first of many surprises.
When offered the red mozetta cape for his appearance on the papal balcony, he is reported to have said: “No thank you. The time for carnival is over.” This son of an Italian railway worker does not stand on ceremony. Reforming the curia and overhauling bureaucracy were high on many cardinals’ agendas and there will be many a clerical official watching nervously in the weeks ahead.
Make no mistake – this man does not suffer fools gladly. He became Provincial of the Jesuit Order within four years of being ordained. He was renowned as a tough leader: you were either with him or against him. His baptism of fire was finding a way for the church to preach the Gospel and support the poor in an Argentina polarised by seven years of kidnappings, torture and murder under military rule. He is accused of failing to support two of his own priests who declined his advice to cease their work in one of Buenos Aires most politically-charged shanty towns and were subsequently taken and tortured for five months.
What kind of Pope will he be? He says he wants a “poorer church for the poor”. Choosing the name Francis (the first Pope to do so) also signals a desire to place creation care high on his agenda. “Humanity is not having a very good relationship with nature at present,” he told the world’s media three days after his election. The early signs are that he is at ease with people, spontaneous and likely to be a press spokesman’s nightmare with his tendency to tear up the script and go off piste. The security men may also look dimly on his desire to go out incognito for impromptu engagements.
The man who takes public transport, lives in humble dwellings and cooks for himself may turn out to be a pope of many surprises. Watch this space. At last, an exciting time to be a Catholic.
Mark Dowd is a religious writer and broadcaster
I think it is important that all Christians, from whatever background, pray for the new Pope Francis as he undertakes this huge responsibility. Yes, we have our theological differences, but the fact is that secularism has declared war on all expressions of Christianity and in such a battle we Christians need to respect, support and pray for each other.
The Catholic Church has stood firm against many of the pressures of the modern world and has been both an active defender of traditional Christian biblical values on marriage, abortion and euthanasia and a strong supporter of justice and social action. The Catholic Church has resisted the pressures of the modern world better than many Protestant denominations!
So what should we pray for Pope Francis? Let me suggest that one of the biggest issues in the Catholic Church centres on its extraordinary past and heritage. Consider what the new pope has inherited: 2,000 years of history, the largest organisation in the world, some of the greatest works of art in existence and an extraordinary richness of doctrine and traditions going back centuries. This wealth is surely both the blessing of the Catholic Church and its burden.
There will be those who say he must change nothing and there will also be those who will say he must change everything. Indeed, the many who speak for secularism will soon be encouraging him to make the Catholic Church subscribe to the agenda that they have set for our civilisation. But the church that listens to the world is no longer the church of God. No, Pope Francis needs that supernatural wisdom that is the gift of the Holy Spirit to see where, under God, the church must change and where, under God, the church must not change.
It would be disappointing if the new Pope changed nothing. It would, however, be a disaster if he changed things in such a way that the Catholic Church became like the world.
Without God’s courage, nothing will be achieved. Without God’s wisdom, what is achieved will be worthless. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ grant him both. And may the smoke that we saw signal a fresh move of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church, to renew it and channel a revival in the world of God’s truth, values and principles.
The Revd Canon J John is a Christian speaker and director of the Philo Trust
This article was published in the April 2013 edition of Reform.