Pope Francis is pictured during a prayer service in an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this March 27, 2020, file photo. CNS photo/Evandro Inetti, pool

Editorial: Reign of hope

  • March 4, 2021

Two years after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis was asked about how long his pontificate might last. “I have the feeling that my pontificate will be short,” he said. “Four or five years. I don’t know, or two, three.”

So now we know that popes aren’t perfect.

On March 13, Francis will have occupied the Chair of St. Peter for eight years, about two months longer than the reign of his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

It is not our place to judge popes or anyone else — there’s only one Judge for that — but we can look at the evidence, and there is ample reason to view Pope Francis as a man who has been well suited for this point in our history. That’s not to say he has solved the world’s problems, but he has been at the forefront in facing them. From clerical sex abuse to climate change to Church politics, Francis speaks plainly, with a firm grasp of what must be said and a conviction that is born of the Spirit.

In his first address to people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, he made his pledge to the Church and to humanity, then told us why: “To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope.”

Hope has been one of the hallmark themes of this papacy, echoing through his major writings, including Evangelii Gaudium (evangelization), Laudato Si’ (environment); Amoris Laetitia (marriage and family) and Fratelli Tutti (fraternity).

Hope is what has kept us putting one foot in front of the other for the last year, trusting that this pandemic will one day be behind us. For Francis, it is also the hope that we awaken from this nightmare to a post-pandemic world that is more attuned to the plight of the aged and marginalized.

After eight years, the 84-year-old Francis is undoubtedly wiser than he was in 2013, but appears no less committed to the vision he has of the world, even when time and again it shoots itself in the foot. He has resolutely defended Church teaching and applied its spirit of compassion and reconciliation to a world sorely in need.

Like any job, the work is never done, and not every problem goes away or is resolved. The stain of sex abuse will never go away, and the debates go on over issues like climate change, abortion, euthanasia, women’s roles in the Church, etc.

Through it all, the man once known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been a steady hand, tough when he’s had to be, contrite, compassionate and humble to his core.

When asked back in 2015 about whether there was any downside to being Pope, he only lamented that the notoriety that comes with the title can be a little overwhelming.

“The only thing I would like is to be able to go out one day, without anyone knowing me, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

In the ninth year of his papacy, and hopefully many more, we all owe him a big slice.

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