|Newly-elected Pope Francis|
prays in front of icon at
The previous hour I had been mulling, on air, what could be happening. I had repeatedly said, in interviews before and during the conclave, that this time the papacy was likely to go outside Europe, and probably to the Americas. But because no one had spotted how, during the general congregations, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had emerged, I had bought into the assumption that, if the conclave was short, it would be Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. Prodded by Colin to take a guess, I said so. But I added a caveat: "If it isn't Scola, then we will have to realize that there was, in fact, a strong candidate from the beginning, one capable of attracting votes." That turned out to be true.
Human, democratic processI had a series of simultaneous reactions of joy when Pope Francis finally emerged. The first was delighted disbelief: I know Argentina well from researching my doctorate on the Church there in the late 1990s and returning many times since. The second was a realization that the Holy Spirit really does act in a conclave, that no human logic – and there had been plenty of that in the fevered run-up to the papal election – can work it out in advance. Here was the pope the Church needs – and only later will we see that we did need him. My trust in the conclave system, which has grown the more I have become acquainted with it, was not misplaced.
What I love most about the final result of that process – the emergence of our new pope – is how human and genuinely democratic it is. It is easy to dwell on the theatricality of the conclave – the suspense, the twitching of the curtain, the gasp-inducing moment in which the new pope is revealed to the world – but the drama is in reality a by-product. What is actually happening – and it happened brilliantly last night, when Pope Francis greeted the world with a disarming buona sera, bowing to receive our blessing – is a personal encounter, a meeting of hearts. Any other global organization would announce a new leader with a press release or a TV interview. But in the Church the pope comes out to meet us – all of us.
Gentle, yet strong voiceThe new pope has great communicative skills. He does not have the theatricality or presence of Pope John Paul II, nor the dazzling intellect of Benedict XVI. But his gentle voice carries great power. His words are precise, and they pack a punch. I have just watched his first Mass as pope; the homily took three simple movement words – walking, building, confessing – and made them a recipe for the Christian life.
As an example of his succinct, forceful style, consider his words – in my translation – in a 2011 interview. In answer to a question about "the laity" he said:
"There are laypeople who seriously live out their faith. They believe Jesus is alive and they hope in the Resurrection, but in the meantime they don't just scratch their bellies, as the Chileans say, but they work hoping for the coming of the Lord and preparing the way. But [in other cases] there's a problem: I've said it before, and that's the temptation of clericalization. We priests tend to clericalize laypeople. We don't realize we're doing it, but it's as if we contaminate laypeople with what we are. And some lay people – not all, but many – beg us on their knees to be clericalized by us, because it's easier to be an altar boy than the protagonist of lay vocation. We mustn't fall into that trap; it's a sinful complicity. We shouldn't clericalize, and we shouldn't ask to be clericalized. The layperson is a layperson and should live like a layperson, with the strength that comes from baptism, which enables him to be the yeast of the love of God in society, creating and sowing hope, not from a pulpit but from his or her daily life. And carrying their daily Cross, as we all do, but the Cross of a layperson, not a priest. The Cross of a priest you should leave the priest to carry: God gave him a big enough shoulder for that."
The Franciscan papacy is barely begun, but already a new style is evident. This is a very exciting time to be a Catholic.
Austen Ivereigh, who is blogging for us from Rome on the papal transition, is a British Catholic journalist, commentator and director of Catholic Voices (www.catholicvoices.org.uk). A former communications director to the Archbishop emeritus of Westminster (England), Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, he accompanied the cardinal to Rome in 2005 for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and election of Pope Benedict XVI. He is the author of "How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice" (OSV, $13.95).