On faith: New pope, new hope
By: From Fr. Michael Lyons Holy Spirit Two Harbors and St. Mary’s Silver Bay, Lake County News Chronicle
Along with many others who have already tooted the Catholic horn, permit me also to celebrate the election of Pope Francis. It is the Easter season and his election prompts another alleluia among those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, Pope Francis appears to have hit all the right notes among people everywhere.
Like many priests, I too had hoped the new Pope would have had experience as a parish priest. He does however have a very strong pastoral sense. He seems to know that being a pastor is not so much about enforcing rules as it is about sharing compassion and grace. Among other things he did, Pope Francis admonished priests in Buenos Aires to baptize the children of single mothers. He clearly wanted the church to welcome everyone and not place any obstacles in the way of their coming to Christ.
Who can forget that powerful moment when immediately after his election, Pope Francis asked for the prayers and blessing of thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square? He certainly gets what every pastor knows, that we need the prayers of our people as often as they may need ours! As a priest and bishop in Buenos Aires, he was both zealous in ministering among the people of the slums and vigorous in advocating their needs to those in power.
Standing in a simple white robe without the traditional embellishments of the papal office, Pope Francis also signaled a fresh outreach to the people of the world. ‘With less lace and more grace,’ as someone said. With no official invitation list, it was wonderful to see the Patriarch of Constantinople at the pope’s installation as Bishop of Rome - reportedly a first in a thousand years. Indeed, Pope Francis had already gained the respect of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, as well as that of the Eastern Orthodox churches there. Hopefully the presence of the orthodox patriarch will lead to a reconciliation of our two traditions of the Christian faith.
Many have also noted the new pope’s pastoral outreach when, breaking with custom, he washed the feet of twelve imprisoned young adults on Holy Thursday, including those of a Moslem teenager there. In doing what the Lord himself had commanded, he extended the outreach of the church to people of faith everywhere. And to everyone’s surprise Pope Francis included for the first time an official intercession for Moslems in the liturgy of Good Friday. Who knows where this urging of the Holy Spirit may lead in Christian Moslem relations!
Aside from the church reforms which prompted his election, in the homily of his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis expressed the same sensitivity to the environment as did Saint Francis, who according to legend, preached to the birds and loved places in the wilderness. To a recent gathering of religious leaders he also urged that together they can do much good for those who are poor, weak and suffering, to promote justice, reconciliation and build peace. “But more than anything,” the pope added, “we must never allow a one-dimensional vision of the human person to prevail, a vision that reduces the person to what he produces and consumes.” The vision of Pope Francis is certainly an ambitious one and dependent also on the cooperation of all religious leaders in achieving it.
Having served as a priest under five popes, I know from experience that age and events will moderate the vision of Pope Francis going forward. As always however, God will certainly achieve whatever He intends. And I will continue to sing Alleluia even when the liturgy doesn’t require it!