Faces on Faith: No ordinary Pope
Who could have imagined on that rather ordinary March afternoon, when a large portion of the world’s population was watching an empty balcony in Rome, waiting for a new Pope to appear, that a simple Cardinal from Argentina would make such a strong first impression as the 266th Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.
Such an officious title would seem to make Cardinal Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, blush, for we learned almost immediately that he was a prelate who was not accustomed to the trappings of royalty. Indeed, the simplicity with which he lived his life from day one was an inspiration to countless numbers of people, even if it was causing many of the Vatican bureaucrats to be scratching their heads in wonder.
It is now eight months since Pope Francis took over as head of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pope continues to amaze and delight countless numbers of ordinary Catholics who had few reasons to be proud of their Church. Pope Francis has done more than just catch the attention of Catholics, for he has captured the attention of all those who have longed for a “softer, gentler” Catholicism. He has captured the attention of the entire world, and few days seem to pass without something about the papacy in the news.
In the past when the Vatican spoke, as a recent article in the New York Times states, it could be a “fairly one-sided conversation, issuing encyclicals and other formal documents stating the Roman Catholic Church’s official position on doctrine or other matters.” As Catholics we were always meant to listen, not converse. Perhaps that is why the Pope’s most recent press announcing a questionnaire covering social issues like same-sex marriage, cohabitation by unwed couples, contraception, and the place of divorced and remarried people in the church is so astounding.
For the questionnaire is not intended for the Cardinals in Rome or the bishops all over the world, the questionnaire is intended for the world’s one billion Catholics. Imagine the possibility of a church actually caring what the ordinary person in the pew thinks! It is not something that has happened in the most recent decades of the Church’s history, and given the intended scope of the papal questionnaire, I think it is safe to say that it is something that has never occurred in the Church’s history.
Pope Francis from that momentous day in March appears to be desirous of engaging the Church and the world in conversation. If that is not clear from the proposed questionnaire, it is certainly shown by his phone call to and conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, an avowed atheist journalist living in Rome. Scalfari was granted the privilege of a broad-ranging 4,500-word interview, which honestly and boldly assessed the issues facing the church today.
It was in that interview that Pope Francis appeared genuinely critical of the Church as it exists today, stating that the Church “should go back to being a community of God’s people. Priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls are at the service of the people of God.”
Pope Francis, Catholics and people of the world thank you for the witness of your simple life, thank you for your humble acknowledgement of being a sinner, thank you for promoting a church that is inclusive and that cares about the poor and the marginalized. We thank you for your warmth, your smiles and your care and concern, and we pray that God grants you good health and many years as Pope in order that you might truly shape a Church all of us can be proud of.