What might be in Pope Francis’ ‘In – Box’
In these past few weeks I have been thinking and praying about the characteristics I desired for the new pope. In the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, (which Pope Francis as a Jesuit would have prayed), there is a prayer where one asks God for the grace to ‘desire to be poor with Christ poor, to be humble with Christ humble and to desire to be a fool for God just as Jesus was’. This was what I had been praying as the graces needed in the new pope.
Over the last few years the Church has lost a great deal of her moral authority. There have been the horrific scandals of sexual abuse of many people, particularly children, by priests. It is clear now that some members of the hierarchy were aware of some of these abuses, but for many years suppressed the stories of the victims from being heard. Both abuse and suppression have been a cause of profound disillusionment in the church. To regain the credibility to speak with moral authority and wisdom (both of which I believe the church does have) Pope Francis needs to continue the work of Pope Benedict XVI in dealing with the scandals. He has a history of working for good governance in his own diocese. There needs to be both redress and acknowledgement of the pain caused by the church and an establishment of public and transparent ways of reporting abuse that are part of good church practice.
Pope Francis, in his choice of name offers an opening to real dialogue with the Muslim world. In the midst of one of the worst inter – religious wars in our Christian history, the Crusades, St Francis walked unarmed and unsupported into a Muslim stronghold to broker peace. Pope Francis has the opportunity to profoundly influence Christian – Muslim relationships towards a new era of reconciliation, forgiveness and most importantly peace. At the same time we need deepening dialogue not only with Muslims, but with our own Christian brothers and sisters, and to continue in the deep relationship we have with our ‘elder brothers and sisters in faith’[i] the Jewish people.
The rights of women are another area in which the Church can play a profound role. In our own country we are talking about a war on women and children. We have horrific rape and abuse statistics. The rights of women and children in many parts of the world are not up-held. The church’s teaching on the innate dignity of the human person and the equal dignity of men and women offers an excellent platform for the Pontiff to speak on these issues. However the church’s ability to effectively challenge extremely patriarchal attitudes in society is undermined by its own history of patriarchy and the poor representation of women in positions of responsibility within the church. If the new pope were to find creative ways of enhancing the role of women within the church, the church would be better able to challenge abuses against women in the broader society.
Pope Francis has asked us to pray for him. Let us pray that he may be truly led by the Holy Spirit. In order to respond well to the many challenges facing the church, both internal and external, we need a man of humility and simplicity, who desires above all to do what God desires.
[i] Nostra Aetate 4