Wisdom with vitality

  • March 7, 2013

The past eight years gave proof that the College of Cardinals got it right in 2005 when they shrugged at Joseph Ratzinger’s birth certificate and made him Pope.

Benedict, then 78, was the right man for the times and graced the Church with wise and faithful leadership. He will be missed. But despite the cardinals’ wisdom back then, the sudden retirement of a frail Benedict makes it natural to suspect the cardinals will now want a pope who is well short of retirement age.

That’s far from certain, of course. The cardinals could decide to elect a 70-something pope. Benedict has established that a pope can renounce his ministry, so if a Pope can retire in hard times, then age may be less of a concern now than it was in 2005.

But it seems more likely the cardinals will take the image of a frail, tired Benedict with them into the conclave. They will recall Benedict’s words that he lacked the strength and stamina to effectively continue. And they’ll note his observation that the modern papacy has become so demanding it requires a vitality of mind and body that’s uncommon in the elderly.

The Church needs a pope who can provide a commanding spiritual and physical counter-balance to a culture that dismisses its Christian heritage and widely rejects religion. It needs a holy person who can preach the new evangelization from the Vatican but can also deliver it personally to nations in which faith is undermined by a secular society that has grown hostile to religious rights. That means someone who can travel, and travel often.

The Church needs a pope with the strength of will to continue to battle the sex-abuse scandal and to overhaul a Roman curia that so often appears inept or lazy, and so often let Benedict down. The universal Church comprises many nationalities, races and cultures. It’s time they all were welcomed into a renewed Vatican bureaucracy that is ethical, efficient and reflective of the entire Church.

The Church needs a multi-lingual pope who embraces modern communication. That doesn’t necessarily mean a pope who can Twitter, but someone who realizes that millions of people use social communication and the Internet to express faith or, often, to condemn it.

The Church needs a pope intimately familiar with the developing world who can be sympathetic and responsive to its needs, particularly in the booming regions of Africa and Asia, and one who will continue to extend a hand of friendship to non-Catholic cultures and faiths, Christian and otherwise.

None of these are short-term projects and most present huge challenges. They’ll require the wisdom and faith of a Benedict combined with the strength and vitality he once had and, with God’s grace, will abound in his successor.


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