No more staring at chimney stacks. We have a pope!
I often share stories of ‘where were you when’ Pope Benedict was elected. Sadly, many of us remember the moment with sadness. We did not have much hope or joy based on Cardinal Ratzinger’s reputation as a doctrinal Rottweiler. My story went like this…
I was sitting in the hairdresser’s chair when news of the white smoke came on the radio. I dashed home to watch the news coverage. When the name of the new pontiff was announced, my heart sank. It was noon time and hubby hadn’t arrived home for lunch. I found myself pouring a small shot of vodka.I did the same when I watched the resigned pope’s helicopter fly away from the Vatican.
That moment of the last Habemus Papam has stayed with me a long time. I hoped and prayed that this time would be different. When the name of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was read, I had a Karol Wojtiła moment. Who? After all the obsessive reading I had been doing, I thought I was up on all the papabili. But, I could not recall his name. Thinking of the English translation, George, I wracked my brain, but gave up and waited for him to appear.
It was good to see him without any preconceived notions or biases. What I saw was a humble looking man, with a kind, gentle demeanor and voice. He did not have his arms raised in a victorious salute, as if to say “I won”! He simply stood there, dressed only in his papal whites. And then came the clincher…
Before he gave his blessing, he asked the people to bless him; to pray to God for him. As he bowed forward in silence, a hush descended on the square. After a few moments of silence, he stood up and only then gave his blessing to the church and the world. Wow…this was the golden memory moment. John Paul II used to kneel and kiss the ground. Francis bowed to be blessed by the people. I hope he makes this a regular gesture, and that others will imitate it’s powerful symbolism.
There is much to be excited about with this pope, especially all the firsts. He is the first pope from Latin America. He is the first Jesuit. He is the first to take the name of Francis – a favorite saint of mine and many Catholics, especially in Italy. News is already spreading about his humble and simple life-style. No car and chauffeur. No episcopal palace. No cook.
Yes, he is conservative on the hot button doctrinal issues, but so are all the cardinals. John Paul II or Benedict XVI would not have given them the red hat if they weren’t. But he is a pastor first, and a champion of the poor; a liberal, social justice advocate.
Not everyone is happy. A friend shared an article from Slate that included the following,
Liturgical traditionalists (myself included) can only be depressed by this election–it is almost the worst result possible for those of us who think the new liturgy lost the theological profundity and ritual beauty of the Tridentine Mass. Benedict’s liberation of the traditional Latin Mass and revisions to the new vernacular Mass have not been implemented at all in Cardinal Bergoglio’s own diocese. Already some of the small breaks with liturgical tradition at the announcement of his election are being interpreted as a move toward the grand, unruly, and improvisational style of John Paul II; an implicit rebuke of Benedict.
Hmmm…high praise in my books! Considering the deep divide in liturgical styles, it’s understandable its hard to please everyone. The steady regression to liturgical garb and traditions of the pre-Vatican II years had both its fans and its critics. I have never been a fan of ostentatious, Baroque finery and clerical exclusivity. So, this wee bit of news is good news to me and to many of my friends.
Of course, these are only first impressions. But, I am happy to be happy with first impressions. I am happy that we do not have another Vatican insider or European. I am happy that our church now has a more global face, one that reflects the reality of our geographical demographics. I am happy that we seem to have a simple, humble, pope of the people with a preferential option for the poor.
So, I am going to relish the moment….and raise a glass in toast of Pope Francis! May the blessings he so humbly requested, be showered upon him as he faces the gifts and tasks of the papacy.