A Pope 'from the end of the earth'

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

The appearance of a new pope is a noisy affair.

The great bells of St. Peter's follow the white smoke; the cheering crowd of tens of thousands overflows the great square; the ceremonial bands play their anthems and fanfares.  In the midst of all that, the election of Pope Francis was marked by three great silences.

The first silence, rather brief, immediately followed the "habemus papam" announcement itself.  The people were temporarily stunned — who was this Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires?  His name had not been mentioned by the many who made predictions — including this writer.  At 76, it was thought that his time had passed, even though he had been the principal alternative to Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave.  The silence also acknowledged the historic weight of the moment: The first Latin American pope, the first Pope Francis; and the first Jesuit pope.  The second silence was from the new pope himself, who emerged on the balcony of St. Peter's, standing ramrod straight, not saying a word, allowing himself only a simple wave.  There were no expansive papal gestures.  His long silence before addressing the fevered cheering masses indicated that he too, perhaps, was surprised at an outcome he may have expected in 2005, but not now.

The third silence was the most dramatic, and will soon be fixed in the imagination as the signature moment of his election.  Before giving the people the traditional blessing, he asked them to pray that God might bless the new pope firSt. Then he bowed low as a great silent prayer enveloped the previously ecstatic square.  He stood still and spoke gently, but that gesture was a grand announcement that here was a humble man who trusted in the power of prayer.

Before that, he led the gathered pilgrims in praying the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be prayers for his predecessor Benedict XVI.  It was a moment of such Catholic simplicity that it left me and my colleagues momentarily out of sorts in the broadcast booth.  I lead first-graders in those prayers as a country pastor in Wolfe Island, Ont.  That a pope would do so on the balcony was both reassuring and surprising in its simplicity.

For years Cardinal Bergoglio was known as a different kind of Latin American bishop.  A reserved man of theological sophistication, he was not timid about challenging the privileged in the name of the poor and the oppressed.  He famously laid aside the material comforts of his office, leaving the archbishop's mansion empty to live in a simple apartment, cooking his own meals and taking the bus to his meetings.


Such was the widespread esteem he enjoyed that in 2005 he was the alternative to Joseph Ratzinger.  Indeed, he was a leading candidate to succeed John Paul for some time, it being thought that Ratzinger, at age 78, was too old to be elected.  Nothing changed in the intervening eight years, save that he grew eight years older, leading many observers — including me — to conclude that, at 76, he was too old to be elected.  Bergoglio was not elected last time because an older man was thought acceptable; he was elected this time for the same reason.

Remarkably, the election of Bergoglio means that the last time the Catholic Church had a pope under 75 years of age — the retirement age for other bishops — was in 1995, nearly 20 years ago.

A reserved man of theological sophistication, he was not timid about challenging the privileged in the name of the poor and the oppressed.

In hindsight, the speedy election of Bergoglio — five ballots in less than 24 hours — is easy enough to explain.  None of the supposedly leading candidates inspired sufficient confidence to be elected easily.  The mistake we made was to conclude, therefore, that various candidates would be tested in one way or the other to produce a pope.  We overlooked that there was a candidate tested as archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998, and who already had the confidence of the cardinals from 2005.  We excluded him on grounds of age alone.  The cardinals did not, and therefore he was elected speedily, with great consensus.

How will he lead the Church?  It is too early to tell, but he sent two clear signals last night, unmistakable to papal Rome.  He appeared in the simple papal cassock, declining to wear the accompanying red shoulder cape that his predecessors have always worn.  Benedict XVI's preferred liturgical style thus did not survive the first minutes of the new pontificate.

Additionally, he declined to use the term "pope emeritus" for Benedict, referring to him instead as "bishop emeritus," thereby taking sides in a dispute within the Vatican about what Benedict should be called.  Small things?  Yes, but deliberate choices from an experienced pastor.

Rome has a new bishop.  The world has a new pope.  Pope Francis has a new program for his pontificate.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "A Pope 'from the end of the earth'." National Post, (Canada) March 14, 2013.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2013 National Post




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