God, allegedly, works in mysterious ways. Tonight’s elevation of the first ever Pope Francis may just be an example of that.
Whether it will be in time to stem the rush from church by many in the west or,on a more personal note, sort out my own little local difficulties with the Catholic Church, i don’t know. But this is a promising start.
How so? Well, i guess many of the regular pundits will be looking at the career of the former Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I. There they will find, already, an intriguing mix of conservatism, with a willingness to get out into the street and engage with those individuals oft deemed, by the church hierarchy, to be untouchable: single mums, for one.
But i’d go further. As someone who adopted Francis as my own guiding saint many years back – even went to the trouble of getting married on his feat day, October 4 – i am well aware that Franbcis represents something quite startling within catholic tradition.
Because Francis himself was a force for incredible change. In the end unsuccessful, he is nonetheless very closely identified with an attempt to get back to first principles and base teaching much more closely on the words of Christ.
He was a peacemaker and one of the first environmentalists, calling all living beings his “brothers” and “sisters”. His Canticle of the Creatures talks lovingly not only of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, but also Sister Death. Not for nothing was he taken up and almost re-sainted by some parts of 60’s hippydom: Franco Zeffirelli’s film, celebrating his life, is another instance of hippy tendencies attributed to Saint Francis in later years.
St Francis is known for a few other ideas that quite broke with what was accepted at the time: his absolute commitment to peace and non-violence – and to poverty; his attempts to find a rapprochement with the muslim world.
A break with the past
Of course, i may be building too much on the back of a simple choice. But i don’t think so.
It is interesting that there has never before been a Pope Francis – especially given how important a role St Francis plays within the church’s development. A number of reasons for that, i suspect.
Laying claim to that name, that robe, is setting the bar very high indeed. Almost – and i suspect the Cardinal must have weighed this in the balance – straying into arrogance. Its laying claim, too, to the reputation of someone who eschewed pomp and riches, who did his utmost to break nearly a thousand years of church tradition and take it back to first principles. Someone who felt that war with the muslim world was not a good idea.
Once more, a pretty significant goal to aim for.
Yet a Cardinal, a man steeped in church tradition and folklore, is not going to be ignorant of any of these things.
So forget history, forget past politics. Tonight, by taking up the challenge of Francis, we have a Pope who is throwing down a gauntlet – or at very least, a white papal glove – to the past and making clear, in the way that only church people can, that things have got to change.