Fr. Britto's Blog

The New Pope

“Habemus Papam! We have a Pope!” I distinctly remember when I heard those historic words. On Wednesday I was in my car driving to a funeral luncheon and I switched on the radio. I heard the announcement. To tell you the truth, I did get a little emotional because the momentous nature of the election really hit home. There were so many firsts. I smiled because I knew that the Holy Spirit is very much alive in the Church. The Lord has not abandoned us in spite of all the dire warnings that the secular media issued to the world.

I am sure you have already heard or seen much about the new Pontiff, Francis. I would like to share my reflections on a few salient aspects of this election.

The Speed of the Election: Honestly I had expected the Conclave to drag into next week. As the Cardinals entered the Sistine Chapel there were no favorites. Moreover, Pope Benedict had changed the rule for the selection of the Pope. Under John Paul II only a relative majority (half of the votes plus one) was required. Pope Benedict stipulated that for someone to be elected the Vicar of Christ, he should receive an absolute majority (two-thirds of the votes). The fact that the Cardinals elected Cardinal Bergoglio in the fifth ballot proves to us that the Spirit is alive. And the Fathers at the Conclave demonstrated their united support behind Pope Francis. Both the presence of the Holy Spirit and the show of support on the part of the fellow princes of the Church augur well for the future of the Church and we can certainly look towards a robust exercise of the papal ministry. The Name Assumed: The new Pope has broken with tradition on several fronts, not least of all in his choice of the name, “Francis.” As most experts believe, he decided to call himself after the much-beloved saint of the poor, Francis of Assisi. It is reported that Jesus on the cross at San Damiano Church spoke to St. Francis and said to him, “Re-build my Church!” At first the saint  misunderstood the command and attempted to repair his parish church. Only later did he realize that the Master had asked him to renew and restore the Church that was in a state of spiritual disrepair. It is possible that the new Vicar of Christ will follow in the footsteps of the Poor Man of Assisi. By choosing this name, the new Pope is also announcing the agenda for his reign. He will give voice and support to the poor who form the majority of Catholics around the world. His preferential option for the poor will resonate well with the global Catholic Church because the great majority of the ministry of Catholics around the world focuses on the poor and the oppressed.

His Personal Lifestyle: From the moment he was introduced, it has been very evident that he is a humble man, much like St. Francis. He did not wear the usual, decorative pectoral cross worn by previous popes. He chose to continue to wear the wooden one that he has used as bishop and cardinal. When a pope is elected, he takes his seat and the cardinals kneel in front of him one by one to offer their congratulations and their loyalty to him. He broke with protocol and stood among his brothers to receive their gesture. When he was introduced to the crowds in St Peter’s Square, the first thing he asked was for the prayers and the blessing of the faithful. While he stood with his head bowed, the huge gathering silently prayed for him. The silence was deafening and moving. His sense of humor already in evidence tells us clearly that he does not take himself too seriously. Even before he became pope, he adopted a simple lifestyle. He rode the bus and lived in his simple apartment where he cooked his own meals. He will be a breath of fresh air that can hopefully sweep away the culture of privilege and secrecy that bedevils the Curia.

His Approach to Ministry: Everyone agrees that he is firmly rooted in the traditions of the Church. Just like his predecessors, he will no doubt uphold all the teachings of the Church regarding doctrine and morals. In fact it is said that as a superior of the Jesuits during the turbulent political era in Argentina he chided his fellow Jesuits for being too involved in politics. Even though he is a staunch doctrinal and moral conservative, his approach to ministry is refreshing. Much like Jesus in the gospel of last Sunday (when Jesus forgives the woman caught in adultery) he radiates compassion and genuine pastoral concern. As archbishop he took issue with the priests who refused to baptize the babies of unwed mothers. He personally washed and kissed the feet of 12 men infected with AIDS. He follows the age-old principle in our faith: “Hate the sin but love the sinner!” His leadership of the Church will hopefully inspire all of us to reach out  meaningfully to people who are hurting in our Church.

Already some voices are expressing disappointment that the new Pope will not “reform” the Church to make some radical changes to doctrine and moral teaching. What is genuine reform? It is not our attempt to change our core beliefs to that we can be in tune with every new trend and every swing of popular opinion. True reform is our willingness to return to our roots – to become more like Jesus, to be humble and simple, to exude mercy and compassion, to stand on the side of the poor, to renounce the trappings of power and pomp. On all these scores, Pope Francis stands very tall and strong. At least in my book.

Let us pray the Good Shepherd will protect him and watch over him. May Pope Francis enjoy good health and the support of the Church everywhere! If some sections of our secular society are disappointed with the election, so be it.

Who is Fr. Britto?

Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.

After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...

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