By Archbishop William E. Lori
Last week, the eyes of the world were focused on the Vatican awaiting word of whom the College of Cardinals had chosen to be the 265th successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Christ.
Working through the College of Cardinals, the Holy Spirit surprised almost everyone.
Soon after white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel chimney, there stood before us for the first time in history a Holy Father from the Western Hemisphere, a pope from South America, a member of the Society of Jesus, a native of Argentina and thus an avid soccer fan, and the first Holy Father to take the name of Francis, after the beloved 12th-century saint who led a life of simplicity and poverty and whose witness to Christ helped to rebuild and reinvigorate the church.
The worship community in this local church gathered last Sunday, March 17, at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen to pray for Pope Francis as he begins his service as shepherd, as pastor, of the church throughout the world. Because we sense our deep spiritual connection with the Holy Father, we naturally want to know all about him; we want to know what he is like. And we are looking for reliable sources!
A couple from my former diocese is good friends with our new pope. They’ve known for years what many people are just finding out – that the Holy Father really is a man of humility and prayer. He is a priest and bishop who sets the course of his life and ministry not in response to external pressures or out of a desire to make a name for himself. Rather, he acts out of a deep life of prayer, a life truly united to Christ crucified.
Another acquaintance of mine described meeting the future pope in Buenos Aires. After an hour-long conversation marked by candor and good humor, then-Cardinal Bergoglio clasped my friend’s hand, looked him in the eye, and said: “Please pray for me!” So when Pope Francis stood before the crowd in St. Peter’s and asked them and all of us to pray for him, he was doing what he had always done: he really is asking us to pray for him.
With the strength that comes from knowing and loving Christ, our new pope has taught and borne witness to the church’s teaching on faith and morals. In the light of Christ, he has defended authentic dignity – whether speaking out for the unborn child, or upholding the traditional family for the sake of children and young people, or serving the poor and defending the oppressed, or defending human rights, including religious freedom.
Now, as Pope Francis, he will do this globally: a compassionate voice of faith and reason in a world where the light of faith and reason seems often to be flickering.
Much is made of the new Holy Father’s simple lifestyle – such as his taking the bus to work when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In the spiritual and apostolic life, however, one opts for simplicity and poverty so as to remove any and all obstacles to knowing and loving Christ.
Coupled with courageous faith and simplicity of life is genuine pastoral charity. It is all too easy for a bishop or priest to manage charitable and pastoral programs but then to find himself too remote to engage directly in loving and serving people, most especially those who are most in need.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio was known simply as “Father Jorge” – because he did the work of a priest, serving people directly and lovingly, whether it was ministering to the sick or visiting parishes or sitting in the back pew of his cathedral making himself available to all.
With only a few words and gestures, Pope Francis has called us to unite in walking – in bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth; in building, even re-building the church in a challenging time; and in professing, not a Christ of our own choosing, but Christ crucified. “When we walk without the Cross,” he said, “we are not disciples of the Lord. … “
We can offer Pope Francis our love and our loyalty first and foremost by responding to the insistent call of the church these final days of Lent and every Lent: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” In this way we will walk with our Holy Father, profess with him the name of Christ crucified, embrace with him the primacy of prayer and the interior life, stand side by side with him in defense of human dignity, kneel down with him in serving the defenseless and poor in charity, and work with him day by day in rebuilding the church through the works of the New Evangelization.
For more columns by Archbishop Lori, click here.
March 21, 2013 CatholicReview.org