He seems to be a man who prefers a low profile, who does not look for glory and status. The evidence is that he will not seek to defend himself, but rather will use his energies to work for the people of God. Already there are those who are attacking him, accusing him of failures during the 1970s to protect two of his colleagues, and to do all he could to recover a baby stolen by members of the military junta. These are old accusations which he has consistently but quietly denied. Indeed the evidence actually is that he acted with courage and common-sense to help people during these dangerous and difficult times, and throughout his years of ministry.
He seems, too, to have a significant ability to express himself much as Jesus did, with absolute clarity on matters affecting ordinary people. He has said that, “human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities”. This man seems to have the great gift of communication, and hopefully papal teaching will become more accessible. His language is simple and direct.
“Instead of just being a Church that welcomes and receives, we try to be a Church that comes out of itself and goes to the men and women who do not participate in parish life, do not know much about it and are indifferent towards it. We organise missions in public squares where many people usually gather: we pray, we celebrate Mass, we offer baptism which we administer after a brief preparation.”
He told his priests to “rent a little garage somewhere, to be with the people, do a little catechesis and if they ask, give them communion.”
He seems to be one who will not hesitate to speak out for the poor and the marginalised.
He does not hesitate to criticise. Talking of unmarried mothers he said recently, “There are priests who don’t baptise the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage. Those are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalise the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl, who rather than return the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it is baptised.”
All this may be hugely challenging to some of the people and priests in the Church. There is every sign that he will take us straight back to the foundations of our Church – to word and sacrament, to a Church which will be more faithful. The indications are that he will reach out to those marginalised by Church law and language, such as the divorced whose marriages have not been annulled in Church law and who marry again, and the gay community, whilst still maintaining the sanctity of marriage. His language is very much of the world and he talks constantly of the need to bring people in.
“We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one…”
Among the challenges faced by this man, this Pope, who seems to be both holy, gentle, and yet very strong, courageous and determined, are: to retain his authenticity, despite all the pressures he will face, and to continue to be a holy man of God; to re-evangelise the community of the Church, reaching out to people so that they will know that they are of the community, that they are each loved by God and that they are called to holiness in all that that means, so that others may be called to join the community; through his example and his teaching to show Word and Sacrament and love as the way to God; to encourage all people to live the calling to holiness, working for social justice and for the poor, the marginalised, the deprived, and the lost; to deal with the problems at the heart of the Curia – finding a way to respond effectively to the Relatio, the 300 page document left to him by Benedict XVI which reports on the Vatileaks issue and apparently alleges the existence of some sort of gay lobby inside the Vatican, exposed to blackmail; to gather around him men and women who will create an effective administration for the Church which is accountable and transparent, and capable of responding to the many problems which the Church faces because of the failings of some of its members; to make appointments to the many vacant dioceses to provide the Church with the leadership it needs across the world; to make changes to enable all the laity, but especially women, to make a greater contribution in our Church which needs all the skills and talents with which God has endowed his people; to make the Church throughout the world a more inclusive, open, transparent community; and perhaps through all this to develop unity in the Church and with others outside the Church.
Pope Francis will need all our prayers.
As Catholics we have much to be proud of and grateful for. I cannot imagine living my life without the love of God and the support of our Church. We need to hold our heads up in the world again, and affirm all that we have, hold and believe as Catholics.