Samuel Kerr believes that Pope Francis’s modesty will help him rebuild faith in the Church.
The announcement of Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as the man to replace Pope Benedict XVI (now officially known as ‘Pope Emeritus’) came as a surprise to many of the world’s foremost Vatican observers. Bergoglio was a man who had not even been mentioned in the list of favourites. He was, at best, a long-shot that the bookies gave generous odds on. Bergoglio was not considered to have the wow factor attributed to Cardinal Turkson, or the diplomatic charm of Cardinal Schoenberg.
The man who eventually stepped out onto the balcony of St Peter’s basilica was one who exuded humility and nervousness; a man who seemed utterly overwhelmed by the gravity of the occasion. Pope Francis is a Vatican outsider – a man known for his pastoral work with the poor in Buenos Aires and for rebuilding the Church’s reputation in Argentina following the severe criticism for its past support of the junta.
Pope Francis made a colossal statement by choosing to name himself after St Francis of Assisi – a Saint often credited with the re-building of the Church in a time of trouble and strife.
Pope Francis is a man unmoved by the trappings of his office. On his first day in the job he decided against riding back to the hotel where all the cardinals were staying in his new official car. Instead, he traveled in a communal minibus with the rest of the cardinals. On Thursday morning he made an impromptu trip to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore for mass. He has a reputation as a humble reformer with austere tastes and a disdain for luxuries.
The new Pope will have been aware when he awoke on Thursday morning of the monumental task that awaits him. The Church’s reputation is at one of the lowest points in its history – the abuse scandal has rocked this ancient institution to its core and many feel that the hierarchy is further away from the views of the faithful than it has ever been. Pope Francis cannot waver in changing what needs to be changed, and some traditions may have to be cast aside in order for the Church to move forward.
Most Catholics will have been heartened by the modesty shown by the new Pope. Francis I asked for his new followers to pray for him before he gave those watching a blessing. He will need the prayers and goodwill of all the faithful and will need to start to reform the Church’s reputation as soon as possible. He will need to build on his predecessor’s work of forming a dialogue with world leaders and repair relations with other religions.
Though the road ahead is difficult, if Pope Francis proceeds with the same modesty as he showed when he was announced to the world on Wednesday evening, then the Church should be able to begin rebuilding bridges. Francis will have to heed the call of his illustrious namesake and begin the work of revitalising the catholic Church.