March 15, 2013 – Viva il Papa Francesco!

Well, kind of a ho-hum week.  Not a lot going on.  Let’s see… The St. Louis Cardinals are still deciding on their 5th starting pitcher.  Steven Jackson signed with the Falcons.  Very nice day today.  What else, what else … oh yes, HABEMUS PAPAM!  We have a Pope!  If your initial reaction was similar to mine, then you were probably a bit surprised at the choice, thinking that they would go with someone a little younger.  However, as more details emerged about the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, it became clearer and clearer as to what the College of Cardinals saw in this man.  A headline I read today I think put it best: “Pope Francis humble but direct.”  Clearly this is a man of simple means who has a special attachment to the poor and disadvantaged.  He displayed this in Argentina by giving up lavish things such as chauffeured cars and a plush residence in favor of public transportation and a modest apartment.   He humbled himself to wash the feet of AIDS patients and those in hospice care.  In the midst of talking about the scandals of the church such as clerical sexual abuse, Vatileaks, etc., a fact that has been lost is that the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.  We do tremendous work with those in need, and I think the example of Pope Francis can help put the spotlight back on this fact.

Another quality that is evident is his prayerfulness.  This may be a trait that makes you say “well, duh.”  But I think the moment when he asked the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, then yesterday when he visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major and knelt at the image of the Virgin of Snows for 10 minutes, showed that he will give true witness to the importance of prayer.  I am also impressed by the fact that he appears unafraid to go “off the cuff” when speaking.  The director of media relations for the USCCB says this about the Pope’s public speaking nature: “Pope Francis’ style will make work harder for journalists. He ad libs or even rejects entirely speeches written for him. That means the Vatican cannot always distribute speeches ahead of time under embargo. Today in his meeting with the cardinals he ad libbed so much the Vatican had to do some hurry up work. The press office got the Italian text out a while after he delivered his address but the text in other languages were slated to come later.”  I think this is a wonderful trait that will draw people to him.  God Bless Pope Emeritus Benedict for his contributions, especially his collection of wonderful writings.  But he was a reserved and soft-spoken individual, and not necessarily someone who could mesmerize a crowd (though admittedly he had a very tough act to follow in Blessed John Paul II).  I think Francis may have the ability to do that.  I am anxious to see the reaction to him at the upcoming World Youth Day in July in his home continent at Rio de Janeiro.  I hope it is inspirational for many young people.

When possible, I tried to watch EWTN for coverage of Francis’ first moments as Pope, because I knew the major network types such as Piers Morgan, Chris Matthews, etc. would ultimately ask the question of whether this Pontiff will introduce reforms to the church such as allowing priests to marry, to allow women to be priests, to accept same-sex marriage, to favor abortions, etc.  What these people do not understand is that we are guided by this thing called a Bible that tells us how God wishes us to live.  And it is not just the duty of the Pope, Bishops, and Priests, but the duty of all Catholics to spread this message.  Thankfully Francis has shown that he will stay true to Catholic social teaching.  For example, as Cardinal, speaking on same-sex marriage when it was legalized in Argentina in 2010, said that  “This is no mere legislative bill. It is a move by the father of lies to confuse and deceive the children of God.”  Hopefully the humble but direct nature if Francis that I spoke of earlier will allow him to communicate the teachings of the church in a more effective way. 

So we now have our first American Pope and our first Jesuit Pope.  My hope is that in breaking of some of the patterns of the past, that indifferent Catholics will take another look at the church.  We celebrate a new Pope as a study shows that the strength of U.S. Catholic identity is at a low point.  According to a Pew Research Center analysis, about a quarter (27%) of American Catholics called themselves “strong” Catholics last year, down more than 15 points since the mid-1980s and among the lowest levels seen in the 38 years since strength of religious identity was first measured. The share of all Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week has dropped from 47% in 1974 to 24% in 2012; among “strong” Catholics, it has fallen more than 30 points, from 85% in 1974 to 53% last year.  And I’m sure that this is not just a U.S. issue, but an issue in many other parts of the world.

So our Francis faces many challenges, and certainly needs our prayers.  But judging him over the last few days, I would say he has the demeanor and the faith to tackle the task ahead.

A couple of things to wrap up.  I had the privilege of attending this evening’s volleyball game which saw our St. Mary’s Hawks win the regional championship!  They will now move on to the state level tournament on March 23 in Herrin.  Congratulations to the coaches and players!  Here is a photo of the proud group:

regional champs 042

Finally, it is of course still the season of Lent.  I came across this brief 2-minute Youtube video from the Archiocese of Santa Fe which is a wonderful reflection on the Stations of the Cross.  I thought you may want to make it part of your Lenten reflection:

Have a great week.  Peace.

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One Response to “March 15, 2013 – Viva il Papa Francesco!”

  1. Millir Says:

    Very good.

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