In choosing Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to become its next pope, the Catholic Church offers those of us who are a part of its membership, and the rest of the world as well, the hope of a spiritual leader who can rekindle the common touch for which Pope John Paul II was so beloved -- and perhaps rid the Church of its reputation for loving the material of this world as much, if not more, than the spiritual.
I understand that for many other denominations, the Catholic Church is viewed as not being a part of the "Christian" faith. That, of course, is nonsense. Catholics believe that Jesus was the only son of God, who suffered, died, and was buries and resurrected so that those who believe in him could have salvation and the promise of eternal life.
And while, admittedly, many Catholics simply don't know the scriptures due to a past obsession by the Church with liturgy, Pope John Paul reversed that drift by emphasizing the Gospel, the teachings and story of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, in every aspect of everyday life as well as in every Mass. It's just that some parishes are only catching on some 30-plus years later.
So Jesus lives in the Catholic Church. But what also increasingly lived within the church has been scandal, a refusal to face past transgressions, and an impression that intrigue about power and wealth took precedence over spreading the word of Christ. Pomp and circumstance plague every institution, including churches. And trust me, it can come in the form of the magnificence of Vatican City or in that super fancy nondenominational "mega church" where the preacher wears $3,000 suits and pushes his cable TV program.
That's why it is refreshing to learn that the cardinals who made up the "conclave" (upon which, it should be noted our Electoral College was based in part) chose a certain cardinal who was born in and led Buenos Aires, Argentina, to become the first pope in history to hail from the Americas.
But that's not what makes him refreshing. What makes him refreshing is his approach to power. He chose not to live in the bishop's residence in Buenos Ares, instead opting for a simple apartment. He gave up the chauffeured limo and took the bus in fulfilling his duties. He even cooks his own meals.
One has to guess that a man who is that much a part of the real world will likely be more willing to recognize that love and forgiveness -- not mistrust and judgmental views -- are the true story of Jesus Christ and the rock upon which he stated he would build his church.
Whether this is a step toward the church recognizing that its longstanding prohibition against marriage for priests has inevitably led or contributed to some of the problems it has encountered related to molestations of young boys by some priests, we don't yet know. In fact, that change will likely be slow to come, if ever.
But what we can expect is a Holy Father who will at the very least deliver a common touch back to the papacy. Pope John Paul II was a hardline conservative as to church doctrine, and it appears Pope Francis will be the same. But "JP2," as he was popularly referred to, at least seemed to invoke a feeling of love, caring, simplicity and devotion to the words of Christ -- something for which Catholics clearly craved and non-Catholics could finally identify.
The Catholic Church would be fooling itself if it did not realize that the intrigue within the Vatican and a somewhat tin ear as to frailties outside its walls have badly damaged its reputation. At the same time, in many parts of the world, had it not been for the modern Catholic Church, communism never would have fallen or would be spreading like wildfire. Like everything that involves humans, the church has both its transgressions and its great merits.
And the entire message of Jesus was that of love and forgiveness. Love and forgiveness can start with parishioners who, like me, have shied away from the Catholic Church in recent years, feeling that while our own individual parish is great, the church as a whole was a rat hole into which pouring time or money was a lost cause.
Healing takes time. But forgiveness should be instantaneous. It is time for Catholics around the world to forgive their church, embrace this man of the people, seek forgiveness themselves and start to heal.