I’ve just spent pretty much the past two hours – time that I really don’t have – watching the announcement of Pope Francis and his inaugural remarks as successor to Benedict XVI. The event was too important, too historic, to miss. Other things could wait.
I found it quite moving and impressive, and not only because I’m a sucker for old traditions.
I was moved by the faith and devotion clearly visible on the faces of many of those in St. Peter’s Square. I was struck by the still very strong yearning for religion and spirituality evident, despite the undeniably secularizing trends in Europe and the West generally, in the fast crowd thronging the Square, and even in the sometimes rather awed voices of the journalists and commentators that covered the announcement.
Even though I believe the most important religious news coming from Rome to be, sub specie aeternatis, the construction of a new building on the outskirts of the city, I have a deep respect, even veneration, for the Roman Catholic Church, and I offer my sincere congratulations to any Roman Catholic readers that I might have out there on the election of a new bishop for the Holy See. This newly chosen leader appears to be a brilliant academic (as far as I know, the first Jesuit ever elected to the papacy, and with a German doctorate, no less) who values the pastoral; a firm advocate of traditional Catholic moral values (bravo!) who is nevertheless an advocate for the poor and the disadvantaged and the suffering (he is said to have recently visited a hospital to wash the feet of dying AIDS patients); a prince of the Roman Catholic Church (and now its sovereign) who declined to live in an archepiscopal palace but, instead, has remained in his own small apartment, cooked his own meals, and taken public transportation to work.
He was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II (a hero of mine) as part of a very deliberate effort to combat the quasi-Marxist extremes of so-called liberation theology and to bring the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) back from the brink of heresy and leftist schism, but he is genuinely committed to ordinary people rather than to the older model of bishops as an untouchable elite. His choice of the papal name Francis – undoubtedly alluding to St. Francis of Assisi – speaks eloquently of how he views his new role.
I’ve already offered a prayer on behalf of Pope Francis and his people.