I am not a practicing Catholic any more, but I still follow what goes on in the Church. I mean, I was educated by them for 13 years, my whole family still practices and I even tried my hand at being a nun. Just because I stopped going to mass does not mean I don’t care.
That’s why I was just as surprised as anyone else last month when Benedict XVI announced his retirement. I mean, come on…you are pope until you die. No one has voluntarily bowed out in like 700 years, but I think I understand why. I would guess Ratzinger was just tired and carrying the weight of 1 billion plus souls and thought in his heart of hearts someone could do the job better than he. Frankly it was a good decision and though he wasn’t the best pope, I wish him well. Oh yeah that leads to another point…he came right after John Paul II who was one of the awesomest popes ever. Really, how can you top an act like that? That would be like having U2 be the warmup act when the main event is Air Supply.
So the new guy is from Argentina. Jorge Mario Bergoglio has already bucked several trends that I find promising. He is a lot of firsts—first non-European pope in 1200 or so years, first pope from the Americas, first pope to be named Francis…But what I like best is that as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he eschewed the trappings of his office: palace, chauffeur-driven limo, housekeeper…Instead he lived in a simple apartment, rode the tram to work and cooked his own meals. In many cardinal meetings, we quietly sat in the back rows. He is an intellectual but not to the extreme degree Benedict is and he certainly is not a politician.
Some of his first actions as pope point to this trend continuing. The night he was elected, he took the bus back to the hotel, he paid his own bill the next day and instead of wearing scarlet, silk and fur as Benedict was known to favor, he just wears the simple white cassock.
I don’t envy him his job for a nanosecond. The Church in Europe is a non-entity, Church membership is declining in South America and Africa in favor of evangelical Christianity. The sex scandals and subsequent cover-ups have disenchanted many people. Still others—this is my biggest personal beef with the Church—are unhappy the Church spends more time preaching morality and what goes on in the bedroom than actually getting out of Rome and into the trenches with the poor and marginalized. I don’t care who takes contraception, I am bothered gays can’t marry and I don’t like men in dresses in Rome calling the shots. I do support dedicated teachers in urban schools, people who work in homeless shelters and support immigrants. I personally think that is where the Church is at her finest and all the social justice she does is AMAZING.
That is why I am so heartened by this quote from one of Francis’ first homilies:
“Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor.”
Wishing you the best, Francis. You are in this girl’s prayers.