It is really difficult to believe that I am about to share with you an entire post praising a pope. I didn’t think it would be possible for me to find common ground with a pontiff, especially considering all that has happened in the last few decades as the Vatican edged further and further from the people and the reality of 21st-century society.
However, today I rise to praise our Holy Father, Pope Francis.
A number of compelling stories have been written this week as the Pope has reached the milestone of being in office for 100 days. This is especially of interest to American audiences as generally we look to the first 100 days of a presidency to be of great importance. The Vatican isn’t known to move quite as quickly. But there is no doubt that the Pope has in just a few short months made a tremendous impact.
What has drawn Catholics around the world, including me, to the Jesuit from Argentina has not been academic encyclicals or carefully worded theological statements. Instead, we are drawn to the pontiff’s simplicity and grounded pastoral presence.
His appeal is found in small steps that have made huge statements:
- Asking for a blessing from the crowd gathered upon his election;
- Choosing to wear simple shoes and vestments;
- Stating that he did not want the job;
- Washing the feet of women and non-Christians during the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper;
- Holding weekly audiences in the open air drawing thousands rather than exclusive indoor gatherings;
- Choosing to live in simple quarters and dine with Vatican guests in a shared dining room; and
- Calling to cancel his own newspaper subscription back home in Argentina.
There are other examples. Of course, an argument can be made that these are minor gestures that indicate a shift in personal style. However, it is often in simplicity that we are shown one’s true greatness.
Spend just five minutes watching video of the Pope making his way through the crowd at one of his weekly audiences and you’ll see what I’m referring to. Compare this with video of Pope Benedict sitting disengaged in a covered vehicle and the difference is stunning. Francis is engaged with the people and is visibly eager and excited to see them. The “Pope Mobile” regularly stops so that the Holy Father can kiss a child or give a blessing. It’s breathtaking to watch.
Regular readers here will note that upon the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI I shared a hope that we would be offered a new pope who would return our Church to an emphasis of concern for the least among us. I prayed for a pope who would be a pastor first, guiding and caring for his flock with the radical love of Jesus Christ, challenging the stale and obstinate culture of the curia. In these first 100 days, Pope Francis has shown to be just that gift.
Now, let’s be completely frank. I disagree with the Pope on a number of matters, including the treatment of gays and lesbians in the Church and marriage equality. However, none of the Cardinals entering the conclave in March supported a shift in these matters. Thus, my great hope was that the next pope would be someone who would bring about reform in other areas and, in the end, return our Church to its core mission of proclaiming the Gospel without ceasing—caring for the poor, seeking economic and social justice throughout the world and embracing the role of the laity while challenging us not just morally but spirituality.
David Gibson from the Religion New Service noted recently:
“Not that Francis is a starry-eyed liberal who is about to ordain women priests or turn the church into a representative democracy. He’s not. Rather, it is the new pope’s repeated exhortations for the church to engage the world, to be humble and open to dialogue, and above all to show people—including Catholics—a welcoming face.”
As I wrote in the modern epistle I shared earlier this week, this dialogue will lead us in a direction that will save our Church. Moreover, while this papacy has just begun, I remain hopeful that we will continue to move in the right direction together.
Viva el Papa Francisco. Viva!