Photo gallery: Pope Francis
From the new pope, what the world and especially its young need is hope.
Last week I watched hopefully as my 14-year-old grandson stood up for his Christian faith in confirmation.
Last year he was touched to attend his friend's bar mitzvah.
Islam conducts no parallel coming-of-age ceremony, but young Muslims go through milestones until, like those in the other great Abrahamic faiths, at puberty they are expected to live up to full obligations.
The new Pope Francis is the leader of the globe's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, but the impact of his position extends far beyond the figurative walls of his church.
Whatever our tribe, whatever our choice — and whether or not we believe in something spiritual beyond us — we need leaders who, at the very least, model for our young the hope for a better world. Pope Francis, a Jesuit, appears to do that.
“I'm thrilled that he's got a real feeling for the poor,” said the Rev. Don Doll, a Jesuit priest at Creighton University in Omaha. “He lives simply, does his own cooking, took a bus to work and moved out of the mansion. He's a model of great simplicity and a model of the poor. That's what I think is great about this man.”
Catholicism, my tribe, is like most religions — a fractious group of folks who coalesce in many ways and disagree in others. The new pope, now leading from Rome by way of Buenos Aires, is a religious conservative and supporter of social justice who is expected to hold the church line on issues such as contraception and the notion of married or female priests.
An article this month in the National Catholic Reporter said the College of Cardinals found him appealing “as a man who held the line against liberalizing currents among the Jesuits.”
Because the 115 cardinals who voted this week all were appointed either by the late John Paul II or the recently retired Benedict XVI, both very conservative, there was little thought of papal change on so-called hot-button issues.
As the drama played out Wednesday at Vatican City in Rome — the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, the bells pealing, the announcement of “Habemus Papam” and the revelation of the pope on the balcony — I thought of my grandson and young people of all backgrounds watching from around the world.
Beyond the stirring ceremony, what role will faith play in their lives?
I, too, was 14 when Catholicism changed at the top. The beloved Pope John XXIII, who “opened the windows of the church” and called together the conference known as Vatican II, died in 1963.
In the years after that, things changed — in religion and the world. Among other things, the numbers of American priests and nuns severely dropped.
In 1978, cardinals elected the reluctant Pope John Paul I, 65. He is said to have exclaimed to cardinals before accepting: “May God forgive you for what you have done.”
Warmly accepted and known as “the smiling pope,” he nonetheless is widely believed to have felt overwhelmed by the job. Shockingly, he died after 33 days, reportedly from a heart attack. Suspicions of foul play were never proved.
He was replaced by the vital John Paul II, 58, who served for 26 years.
(A 2011 Italian-made movie, “We Have a Pope,” was based on the notion of a cardinal — perhaps like John Paul I — elected pope against his wishes.)
Holy Father Francis now assumes the papacy in the wake of the disastrous child sex-abuse priest scandal. At a Vatican summit in Rome last year, it was estimated that in America, reparations to settle lawsuits totaled at least $2.2 billion.
If God dispenses grace, pedophile priests spread disgrace — and in some cases, the offenders were moved from parish to parish by their superiors. For victims, abuse led to the opposite of hope — despair.
A mostly unsmiling Pope Francis looked stunned when he stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and stood above the throngs below in St. Peter's Square. Looking out at the world, he must have felt the weight of the world.
Rome and the Vatican are so big, draped in such grandeur, that it can be hard there to think humbly and small.
My wife and I visited Rome and all its glory a year and a half ago, so the televised scenes Wednesday looked all so fresh. Having toured the Vatican Museum and craned our necks to gaze at Michelangelo's wondrous ceiling in the famed chapel where cardinals meet, we could more easily picture history being made.
As have millions of others, we walked hundreds of narrow steps, winding up into the dome of St. Peter's — a difficult climb, perhaps a metaphor for believers' trying to reach a heavenly afterlife.
Achieving the ascent and stepping outside, we saw Rome all around at our feet. The climb and the view, in more ways than one, took our breath away.
What happened this week in the Eternal City might or might not affect believers for eternity. But may the new pope give us all hope.
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