I thought the the following by Melinda Henneberger in the Washington Post captured well the initial impression conveyed by Pope Francis in comparison to his predecessors. The views come from Catholic scholar J. Bryan Hehir.
J. Bryan Hehir, the former head of Catholic Charities and of the Harvard Divinity School, arrived a smidge late Thursday to the Kennedy School class he teaches on the ethics of war, and tried to jump straight into his planned lecture on humanitarian military intervention. His students, however, had other ideas: “Can you talk about the pope, please?” one asked.
Hehir is one of the most interesting thinkers in the church, so of course he could: When the charismatic John Paul II first stepped out onto that loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square right after he was chosen to lead the church, he thought, “he overwhelmed the crowd.” When scholarly Benedict ventured out onto the balcony, “he taught the crowd,” and when humble Francis “stepped onto that platform, he related to the crowd.” What that shift will really mean, for and far beyond the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, no one knows.
DISCLAIMER: I am, as you know, an Episcopalian. My reflections on the new pope in the Catholic Church and $3.25 will get you a personal grande decaf cappuccino, dry. (With apologies to Boston Pobble.)
Like many others, I have been caught up in the conversation around Pope Francis. My Catholic and Episcopal Facebook friends (and others as well) have offered up more reading material than I have been able to consume. At this point I am having trouble sorting the material out and remembering what I’ve read where. Particular thanks, however, go to Fran Rossi Szpylczyn and Jane Redmont.
In spite of the overwhelm, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
I was listening to the Political Junkie segment on NPR’s Talk of the Nation when the host, Neal Conan, announced that those waiting in St. Peter’s Square had seen white smoke. NPR immediately cut away from the regularly scheduled segment, of course, and went to their reporters in Rome. All of us who were tracking this remember what seemed like a long wait from the smoke to the announcement.
Terry and I went off to lunch at our regular Mexican restaurant. While they normally had The Cooking Channel on the TV there, they instead had the Bay Area NBC affiliate on, which was broadcasting the coverage from NBC news. The network was, of course, doing their best to fill time until the announcement. The sound was down on the television, but midway through our lunch the text told us that the new pope was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, and that he had taken the name Francis.
Like many others, I reflected on all the firsts:
- First pope from the Americas.
- The first Jesuit pope.
- The first pope to take the name Francis.
- And, of course, he is the first pope not from Europe in a thousand years.
Like others, I’ve reflected on his humility and his concern for the poor. I’ve thought about how he didn’t live in the cardinal’s palace, cooked his own meals, and took public transportation. And like others, I’ve reflected on his conservative views on gender, marriage, and sexuality. But given the available pool of candidates the latter was inevitable whoever was selected.
We’re already seeing signs that as pope he is going to be doing things differently. Three examples of words and actions after his selection. I quote and steal, but all of this has been reported publicly.
- He did not take the waiting limousine back to his temporary residence. He rode the bus with the other cardinals.
- “Minutes after the election result was declared in the Sistine Chapel, a Vatican official called the Master of Ceremonies offered to the new Pope the traditional papal red cape trimmed with ermine that his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI gladly wore on ceremonial occasions. ‘No thank you, Monsignore,’ Pope Francis is reported to have replied. ‘You put it on instead. Carnival time is over!'”
- In a talk he gave over the weekend he described how he chose the name Francis. As the vote was moving towards two-thirds he said a colleague told him not to forget the poor. He continued:
I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of the wars, while the vote counting continued. And Francis is the man of peace. And thus came the name, in my heart: Francis of Assisi. And he is for me the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man that loves and guards creation. At this time we have a relationship with creation is not very good, right? He is the man that gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!
It might, it just might. be a new era.
Those are my reflections. That and $3.25 will get you a grande decaf cappuccino.