Friday, 20 September 2013

Pope Francis: the first six months

Well, Pope Francis (formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio) has occupied the Chair of St. Peter for just about six months now. 

He's amazed us all, whether Catholic or otherwise.

Between paying his own hotel bills, living in a simple guesthouse, washing the feet of the residents of a facility for young offenders (one of whom was a female Muslim), visiting a community of Middle Eastern asylum seekers, driving himself around in an old used car, and making some strongly inclusive pastoral statements, the man hasn't put a foot wrong.  And this seems to be the reaction of people whether one happens to be Catholic, a member of another Christian denomination, a member of another faith, or any other person of good will.  The only seriously negative comments I've heard about Francis have come from incorrigibly anti-Catholic bigots and from ultra-conservative Catholics (two groups who share a rather similar set of values on many things, when you come to think of it).

My Catholic friends (most of them anyway) are walking around with much more of a spring in their step.  Comments like "It's become fun to be Catholic again," have been heard in various circles.  And, on the other end of the Catholic spectrum, I've read articles by a few conservative Catholics bravely trying to spin the various papal deeds and utterances.  (Curiously, the phrase "the Holy Father" as a polite reference to the Pope has re-entered the vocabulary of many liberal and middle-of-the-road Catholics while it is taking a break from the vocabulary of many conservative Catholics.)

From my perspective as an ecumenical staffer and a member of another denomination, my reaction is largely shaped by the comments made by the theologian Karl Barth as to how we should evaluate the statements and actions of any church leader.  Barth said, in effect, that we need to ask this question:  "Can we see Christ the Good Shepherd in this church leader's words and deeds?"

In terms of Pope Francis, I believe the answer so far is an unreserved and enthusiastic "Yes!"

(You may also want to see my post on the day of Pope Francis' election.)

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.