Four years ago today, the world was introduced to Pope Francis. As the Habemus Papam was announced, journalists struggled to fill in the many blanks. Argentina? Jorge Bergoglio? Francis? Why Francis? Within moments of his appearance on the papal balcony, we were given some important clues about this man.
Where was the rich, papal finery and cross? Where were the victory waves, the triumphant looks of joy and pride at becoming the most powerful leader in the Catholic Church?
Instead, we saw an elderly, timid, somewhat confused-looking man. Perhaps he simply forgot to put on the rest of his papal garb? Perhaps he just needed a crash course in papal balcony protocol?
And then came the moment of magic. As the world waited to be blessed by their new pope, he first asked US to bless HIM!
We often ask “where were you when…?”. I was sitting in hubby’s dental chair when the news was announced. Hubby stopped mid-way in my tooth repair. Along with our staff, our attention was glued to my iPad on the counter. It’s a moment I will never forget. It’s a moment that still gives me goose-bumps.
The following hours and days were filled with small actions that spoke loudly of the kind of pope Francis wanted to be. He took the bus with fellow cardinals. He stopped at the hotel to pay his bill. He wore his own, simple episcopal cross and mitre. He carried his own suitcase. And then there were the shoes. Ah, the shoes…
His choice of footwear wouldn’t have been a big deal if not for the extravagant clothing of his predecessor. You can’t judge a book by its cover. But…sometimes you can.
This year’s anniversary is especially poignant. We yearn for leaders of integrity, who see beyond their own self-interests. We need leaders who will work for both the good of their country as well as the good of the world. We need leaders whose vision is grounded in seeking justice and peace for all. We need leaders who give us hope, not increase our fears.
Francis is such a leader. In an NCR interview by Joshua J. McElwee, Cardinal Cupich of Chicago gives an excellent analysis of the first four years of the Francis papacy. Becoming a more “synodal”, collaborative church was a key concept in the Second Vatican Council, and is a foundational part of Francis’s vision for the church. Cardinal Cupich describes it this way,
I find that it does two things. First of all, it gives you insight into what the issue is by hearing other voices. And secondly, it keeps you from the temptation that you have to in some way make all the decisions, and the weight falls on you.
Or even worse, that you make your work an exercise in your own ego being affirmed. Because there is a temptation at times to make your whole work an exercise in narcissism, where you want to in some way prove yourself by the decisions that you make.
That’s very tempting to people who are in positions of authority. You want to build this building, you want to do this particular task that you want to leave behind as a legacy. I think that if you do that you’re really not going to be free to address the issues that are there because you’re going to be blinded by the task that you think is going to affirm your own ego.
Cardinal Cupich also reminds us that we must be grateful to Benedict XVI for his wisdom and courage. If Benedict had not resigned, we would not have Francis.
I hope and pray that Francis will be with us for many years. In Polish, we wish for Śto Lat!…one hundred years of life! Let’s all raise a glass today. To Francis…Śto Lat!