Brave new world

  • June 19, 2013

The morning after becoming Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis checked out of his hotel by paying his own bill and then calmly strolled into his new life. It was a novel way to launch a papacy but, then, over his first 100 days the new Pope has been making novelty commonplace.

One hundred days is grossly insufficient to enact substantive change, but it is enough to signal a direction. By his candid, joyful, holy example, Pope Francis is very quickly and impressively putting the Church on a bold course of renewal. His first 100 days were not so much a whirlwind as a refreshing breeze on a hot summer day.

Even before his first public appearance, the Pope proclaimed his vision by taking the name Francis in honour of the 13th-century saint of the poor. In one of his first public statements, the Pope said he wanted a Church that was poor and for the poor. He subsequently called for a Church that was humble, loving, brave and joyful, a Church that, as he so plainly put it, had no couch potatoes but abounded with bishops and priests who got so close to their flocks they became like shepherds with the smell of sheep.

Pope Francis has spent his opening days steering the Church in that direction. The evidence is apparent in the way he acts, the place he lives, the words he speaks and even in the plain brown shoes he wears.

The big issues facing Francis, such as reforming the curia and the Vatican bank, will play out over time. They are complicated, serious matters that require administrative and bureaucratic finesse. So the new Pope has not rushed on these files and has wisely named an advisory council of eight cardinals representing six continents to help solve these pressing, but delicate, problems.

Meantime, Pope Francis has had an immediate and positive impact by simply being a pastor. He came into the job at a difficult time for the Church. On top of the legacy of old scandals and the hint of new ones, a cloud of unease had wafted over the Church following the sudden abdication of Pope Benedict XVI.

The new Pope stepped confidently, almost joyfully, into the breach. Whether by design or by instinct, Francis brought calm and injected hope almost instantly with his pastoral words and holy example.

The papal informality of Pope Francis is not to all tastes. There is concern that his folksy charm and straight talk is risky in a world of instant communication that can be deaf to nuance and blind to compassion. The Pope obviously knows the perils but, as he has said, “a cowardly Christian doesn’t make sense.”

For Catholics, it’s a brave new world.

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