Reflections on Pope Francis
March 15, 2013
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On Wednesday, we gathered at Gingrich Productions to watch the announcement of the new Pope from the Vatican. We began to watch as soon as white smoke indicated that a successful vote in the conclave had occurred.
While we were waiting, we scanned the networks and the internet for hints about who might become our new Holy Father. None of the “experts” suggested it would be a 76-year-old Archbishop from Buenos Aires.
Callista and I were delighted that the Cardinals, through prayer and reflection, had selected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. There was something healthy and refreshing in watching all the “experts” confess that this was someone so outside their expectations that they had not prepared to discuss him.
There is also something reassuring about the College of Cardinals meeting and praying and trying to understand what God wants them to do.
Clearly the Cardinals came to the conclusion that spiritual strength and a deep sense of Holiness are great needs of the Church. The New Evangelization requires a Holy Father whose personal strength and personal witness to the love of Christ and the hope of salvation through Christ can imbue the entire Church.
In this context neither age nor geography seemed to matter.
Cardinal Bergoglio had lived a life of simplicity and commitment in Argentina. Giving up the Cardinal’ s palace to rent a small apartment, giving up the chauffeured car to take taxis, and cooking at home for himself — this was a Cardinal who lived his commitment to be one of the people. He was in the flock, not above it.
Furthermore Cardinal Bergoglio had proven to be tough and committed both in his dealing with the Argentine Government and in his dealing with his own order, the Society of Jesus or Jesuits.
He had been such a serious reformer of the Jesuits in Argentina that when he stepped down they assigned him to teach at a high school. He dealt firmly with the military dictatorship and then bluntly and directly in public with the current left wing government.
Having a Pope from Latin America is itself a breath of fresh air and new energy for the 2,000-year-old institution. Europe has changed from the heartland of Christianity to a place where Christianity is on the wane. In many ways Europe is a new center for missionary work and for making up lost ground. The vitality of the Church today is in Latin America and Africa. The United States is a battleground between elitist secularists on one hand and the Judeo-Christian tradition on the other. The new energy from the South may revitalize the North for Christ and the Church.
Choosing Francis as his Papal name is a deeply symbolic and meaningful step.
St. Francis of Assisi was both passionately committed to simplicity and living a Christ-like life among the poor and a relentless and even harsh reformer of the Church.
I think Pope Francis is sending a clear signal that he will challenge both the right and the left. The left will feel challenged because Pope Francis is clearly going to defend Catholic doctrine on abortion and marriage. His public opposition to the Argentine government’s gay marriage efforts infuriated the government, but he persisted. On the other hand, some on the right may be uncomfortable with his emphasis on helping the poor and being concerned for the least of us.
The Church itself is going to be challenged by Pope Francis’ commitment to reform it. There is a general agreement that the Vatican has to be modernized as a bureaucracy. There is also a feeling that the moral reforms started late in the Papacy of Blessed John Paul II and firmly enforced by Pope Benedict XVI still have a good way to go. Re-establishing the Church’s moral stature and establishing a strict accountability for priests and the hierarchy will be a significant part of the new Pope’s job.
His new approach was obvious from the minute Pope Francis stood on the balcony. The first image of him was a white pillar of strength. He was wearing the simple daily cassock of the pope with none of the accoutrements a pontiff might normally wear in such a ceremony.
The second image was wry humor about himself.
Pope Francis looked on the crowd with simple reverence. He asked a crowd of 100,000 for silence and got it. He began with a prayer for his predecessor, then he asked us to pray for him. Capturing the momentum of the crowd, Pope Francis brought them to prayer — a master pastor.
In every way we are beginning to see a simple, humble but firm and dedicated man of God.
This has the potential of a truly historic papacy with profound hope for a better world through the example and leadership of Pope Francis.