Pope Francis

By 
  • March 14, 2013

White smoke that billowed March 13 from the Sistine Chapel chimney heralded more than the election of Pope Francis.

It signalled an end to the apprehension that has engulfed the Church since last month’s sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and indicated the Church is moving forward but in a manner mindful of the rich history and traditions that are central to Catholicism.

There was nothing hurried about the process to name the 266th Pope in Church history. Refreshingly so. Benedict announced his resignation on Feb. 11 and became Pope emeritus on Feb. 28. The process to select his replacement was careful and methodical and, despite a media tempest, consistently distinguished and reverential.

Much of the world was in a rush for a successor but, thankfully, the cardinals stayed mindful of the value of patience and prayer, and remained prudent and calm. Prior to the conclave, they spent seven days in general congregation and heard 160 deputations from 152 cardinals as they assessed the Church, prayed and meditated on the qualities the new Pope requires.

Outside, there was endless clamour for less talk and an urging to get on with voting. The decorum and ritual of the cardinals chafed those accustomed to the grandstanding of reality TV or the glad-handing of political conventions. Privacy, prayer and quiet reflection are anathema to a Twitter society.

But that was expected. The past month saw the Church under the microscope of a skeptical media — with old sufferings being dredged up, exaggerated or manufactured — but the cardinals remained stoic amid the cacophony and provided a lesson to the world on how to conduct important affairs in a civil, orderly and humble manner. In that, they followed the example of Benedict’s papacy and his resignation. It may have been distressing for those accustomed to soundbites and theatre, but for the Church these were good days.

A benefit of being popeless is that a period of sede vacante forces the Church to pause for serious introspection. This scrutiny will be a great benefit to Pope Francis. Most of the world’s cardinals provided their assessments on the state of the Church. They spoke about issues with the curia and the Vatican bank and the urgent need to end the scandals that battered Benedict. They voiced concerns about Western secularism but also hope for the new evangelization. They discussed ecumenism, social justice, sex abuse, the role of women, the needs of the world Church and the continuation of Benedict’s vision of caritas. And more.

So Pope Francis enters office under no illusions about what the Church asks of him in terms of spiritual leadership and administrative oversight. He has been given much to work with, and has much to do.

Pope Francis - A New Era

A Catholic Register Special Feature - Pope Francis

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