A sign of hope for the Church


Thursday, 21 March 2013

From the moment he raised his hand shyly, I think I was sold, and even more so when he greeted everyone with ‘Buono sera’. But the best moment came when he bowed and asked everyone present to first pray for him, before he blessed them.

My favourite title for the Pope has always been ‘Servant of the servants of God’. For me, that simple bow summed up that attitude.

It is very like the sentiments expressed in the beautiful prayer attributed to St Francis – O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. (And yes, I know, it was first published in 1912, and was not composed by St Francis himself, but many Franciscans endorse it as being in the spirit of Francis.)

This Pope is different in style to the previous two incumbents, but as Prof. Breda Ennis pointed out in a recent issue of The Irish Catholic, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was deeply loved because of his shy ways, and attracted far more people to papal audiences than John Paul ll did. And yet, Pope John Paul was deeply beloved, too.

The fact is, that the personality of the Pope is not so vital as the office of the papacy, which is why the Church could survive some truly awful Popes. The fact that every Pope in living memory has been deeply prayerful and holy does not mean that every Pope in history has been the same.

A minority were truly shocking. I think about Pope Julius lll, who installed an illiterate boy from the streets as a cardinal, and allegedly also in his bed.

Each of the Popes in recent times has had strengths – John Paul ll had incredible charisma in the first years of his pontificate, and immense dignity in the frailty of his declining years. Benedict XVI is the great teacher – the one who opens up the scriptures and the traditions of the Church to us. And Francis? It is very early, but already, I have noticed people in newsagents and butchers’ shops talking about the ‘lovely new Pope’.

It goes without saying that he will be in harmony with previous Popes on central doctrines and important moral teachings. To have that common touch, to be a warm and energetic man who does not stand on ceremony, is a wonderful bonus.

Mind you, the honeymoon is already over for sections of the media, with allegations about Pope Francis and the Dirty War in Argentina surfacing. However, the media is only doing it’s job.

Think about it – if a Provincial Superior of the Jesuits could dislike the politics of two of his brother Jesuits so much that he would be willing to allow them to be captured and tortured by an evil regime, he would not only not be fit to be Pope, he would be, in one of his own favourite phrases, “of the devil”.

If the media investigate carefully, and clear him, they will be doing him a favour. And if there is substance to the rumours, he should not be Pope.

All I have available to me is the internet, but it seems clear to me that not only are the rumours not true, but he was instrumental in securing the release of the two Jesuits.

Apparently, he persuaded the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla to free the two priests. It is said he took the place of Videla’s chaplain so that he could gain access to the dictator at Mass, and then pleaded their case.

Some Argentinians have come to his defense, including Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize winner. According to Reuters, “What Bergoglio tried to do was help where he could,” Esquivel said. “Bergoglio never turned anyone in, neither was he an accomplice of the dictatorship.”

Pope Francis is a wonderful sign of hope for the Church. At the moment, the Church is both divided and fractious. It will never be a perfect society, but if he brings people to listen to and care more for each other, he will not just be a good Pope, but a great one.