Rome -- "May God forgive you." That's Cardinal Timothy Dolan's translation of a joke that Pope Francis told the College of Cardinals a day after being elected the 267th pontiff.
Having watched the prayerful mien of some of the cardinals going into the papal conclave that would elect Argentinean Jorge Mario Bergoglio pope, I have reason to believe that God had something to do with Papa Francisco, as the Romans call their bishop.
Others, of course, see it otherwise.
"I don't think he's what we need right now in the Catholic Church," Madeline Cuomo, the sister of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told Crain's New York Business. "We're looking to move the church forward, with gay marriage and women priests. He's going to turn back the clock."
Her father, former governor Mario Cuomo, had this to say: "(Cardinal) Dolan would probably have been closer to where the church is at the moment."
Funny he should endorse Cardinal Dolan, despite the fact that Dolan asked the current Gov. Cuomo to step back from his insistence that abortion access expand in the United States.
The governor, for his part, takes a more positive view of what he's seen of the new pope thus far: "I think it's exciting that he's from the Americas," he said. "His life story is inspirational in many ways. Obviously, we're just learning about him, but what you hear about him, the decisions he's made, the way he's led his life, the modesty of it, the humbleness of it, I think is quite praiseworthy."
The rating system here seems a bit unhelpful.
Forget being the leader -- as a member of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis believes the Word of God and lives it in more than an obligatory or agenda-driven way. The Gospel and the Sacraments are his mission and mandate. We best welcome him to the international scene, and into our lives, as a teacher, pastor and father.
When I stood in St. Peter's Square watching the white smoke and waiting for the Habemus Papam, I observed that the pilgrims gathered didn't desire to see a favored candidate so much as they wanted a Holy Father. The new pope leading the crowd in prayer was a spectacle of quiet devotion, a reminder of the inner life that undergirds society.
I mention the Cuomos because their comments well illustrate the central challenge of our time: secularism. Despite their status as a prominent Catholic family, they are advocates of legal abortion. Mario Cuomo is best known in this context as an early leader of a "personally opposed, but ... " approach to the issue in political life. It's an outgrowth of surrender to secularism, a capitulation to the privatization of religion, even or especially among professed believers. But that's not religion. Religion infuses life. Religious people who truly seek to live radical lives of love and service make democracy and civil society succeed.
"The Lord brings about a change in those who are faithful to Him," then-Cardinal Bergoglio said in an interview in 2007. He was talking bare-bones Catholic faith.
When he prepared to greet the crowds outside St. Peter's, flowing out and filling not just the Square but also the Via della Conciliazione, there was an odd peace. Odd, because it was so countercultural. Normally in cold, wet, packed crowds who find themselves waiting, there might be conflicts. Not anywhere I stood. It was as if that Holy Spirit the cardinals had said they would be conferring with had a presence outside the Sistine Chapel, too.
In that 2007 interview, Bergoglio said: "Staying, remaining faithful implies an outgoing. Precisely if one remains in the Lord one goes out of oneself." In other words, we don't change the faith, the faith changes us. We Americans, who tend to see the world in terms of politics and personality, might consider regarding Pope Francis as one who might just be able to help us, lead us out of unjust division and into a future with a deeper understanding of the source of his hope. He's not just another name in the news, but an apostle, the successor of Peter, a Holy Father.
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