Yesterday’s inauguration of Pope Francis seems a fitting juncture at which to take stock of him- this in response to a reader’s recent note asking what I think about the man who reminds him of his Jewish rabbi grandfather. And, in response to this reader’s question, and with the admission that much remains to be seen, I like the new pope based on the few things I currently know about him. Here’s why:
- He took the name St. Francis. St. Francis of Assisi, who renounced his life of privilege in order to live among the poor as a beggar and itinerant preacher, has often also been associated with humility, simplicity, and the gentle care of all creation, especially the most vulnerable. He is actually a patron saint of ecology. It was St. Francis who first coined the expression, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” If ever there were a time when the church needed a fresh wind of the Spirit in the form of what St. Francis stands for, as a return to the essentials of the Gospel, this would be it.
- He cares a lot about poor people. By all accounts, the man has walked the talk, too. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas notes the Pope’s Jesuit identity as a sign that the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t just serve the poor but is a “church of the poor.” (If only this statement could also be made of the mainstream church in America!)
- He has little time for clericalism. In spite of- or maybe because of- his own clerical credentials, the man holds contempt for clericalism. He apparently was quoted as saying the following within the context of the child abuse scandal that continues to rock the church: “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation.” And, with respect to priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, he was quoted as calling their refusals a form of “rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.”
- He’s old. I like old people. In fact, in my line of work I spend a good deal of time with them, hearing about their lives. They often have a lot of wisdom. At 76, the new pope is by most standards old, which qualifies as a reason for liking him. Still, I’m not sure what it says that the world’s largest Christian church, one numbered in the whereabouts of 1.2 billion members, takes for its head a geriatric person (and a man at that). I mean, in a world where innovation means survival, what organizations really do this sort of thing anymore?