The MAS program is ecumenical, and the students strive to learn from one another about each other’s traditions. Carrie Meyer-McGrath, a Roman Catholic and current student in the program, wrote the following to assist her Protestant brothers and sisters to understand her reaction to the news of Pope Francis’ election.
Yesterday I got a lot of questions from my Protestant and Reformed colleagues about Pope Francis. I also got a lot of questions from my family at varying levels of engagement with the Roman Catholic Church. I also promised you a more critical and less doe-eyed account of my thoughts and so here goes.
And So – I present:
A veritable FAQ of my feelings about Pope Francis.
Really it’s a SAQ (sometimes asked questions)
Question – How are you feeling about the election of Pope Francis and did you expect it?
I am pretty stoked and no, no way, did I expect him. To be fair, I tried not to expect anything. Why? I hate losing and being wrong. Also, I realize the church isn’t about me and my North American expectations and I don’t know enough about the Cardinals to make a guess. That said, I am delighted by the choice for a few reasons.
He is from Latin America where 40% of the world’s Catholics are. That is a huge piece of the pie. It’s almost half of the pie. This is a part of the world that has struggled with war, poverty, and oppression and has often been overlooked. Yet, remains faithful and that faith has been an example for the world. I am excited by the fact that Pope Francis’ election affirms this part of the world. Seeks to listen to this part of the world and reminds Europe and the US that the church is bigger and can look different than we know it to look.
He is a Jesuit. Which is important both personally and a politically.
Personally, I was educated and shaped by the Jesuits theologically and spiritually. From them I learned to see God in all things, to participate and imagine Scripture, open my eyes and heart to the poor, and I received a rock solid theological training. Politically, having a Jesuit in the top position is a shake up to routine.
Politically, Traditionally the Jesuits have been critical of the hierarchy, though fierce defenders of the church and of the pope. For this reason, Francis is a bit of a wildcard, but is not unfamiliar with administration and making hard decisions. He was fine to make unpopular decisions when bishop of Buenos Ares, and I think he’ll do the same in Rome. I believe he will be fine making the hard decisions of hiring, firing, and administrating.
What do you make of his name?
It’s a brilliant move for a few reasons, not least is that it is fresh.
First it demonstrates that he understands himself as someone who is called to rebuild the church as St. Francis of Assisi was called to in his vision Francis, Go and rebuild my Church, which you can see has fallen into ruin. This is an acknowledgment that the church is in need of some repair work and he is willing to do it.
It also points to the way in which, as a cardinal and already as a pope, he has opted to live a life of simplicity. You have heard the stories. In Argentina he lived in a simple apartment, cooking for himself and taking the bus. He opted to ride back from conclave not in the limo, but with his brother bishops on the bus. He didn’t wear the mink stole of the bling-y cross when he was presented at St. Peters. This morning, he schlepped his own luggage and paid his own bill in Rome when he could have sent someone else to do these things.
The name nods to his love of the poor and the outcast – something he has lived. Kissing the feet of AIDS patients. Telling his priests that they’d better baptize children born to unwed mothers or run the risk of being hypocrites.
Traditionally, the Jesuits and the Franciscans have been rivals. The two groups have similar missions that they come at from different angles. In taking the name Francis he has already effected a unity and attempted to knit the church as one community.
Question – But, isn’t he pretty conservative? I mean, he made some painful comments about gay marriage and families.
No doubt about it. He is doctrinally orthodox. So much so that he was reported to have estranged himself from some of his Jesuit bothers. (Consider my last comments and the irony – too orthodox for the Jesuits and too Jesuit for the Curia.) Though there is no question of the dignity and goodness of LGBTQ peoples in church teaching, the Roman Catholic Church is currently not in support of gay marriage and partnerships. The comments he made to that end are painful for us to read.
But really, people!? What did you expect? You don’t put your hand in a bag of Skittles and then get mad when you don’t get an M&M.
Every cardinal in the Sistine Chapel was chosen by Blessed John Paul II or Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI, they weren’t exactly liberal. Many weren’t even moderate. Those ole boys were conservative on moral issues and Pope Francis is going to be the same. But, his affection for people gives me hope, his shepherd’s heart, clearly demonstrated by his behavior last night is a promise.
And there is this to keep in mind about perspective. The Roman Catholic Church has 1.3billion people and they are divided like this:
Notice, North American and Europe Catholics are only about 30% of that group globally and less each year. And not even all of the North American/ European Roman Catholics support gay marriages.
I do. I really, really do. But in a church of 1.3billion, I realize that my voice and opinion are a minority. I see that this is not the only injustice, and I see that our first job as Roman Catholics is to affirm the inherent dignity and value and Child of God-ness in every person.
Let’s get people thinking people are human as a first step.
I’m with you.
I cringed at the comments.
I hated them.
But, come on, we all expected them.
What do you think he’ll do now?
Pray a lot.
I think, he’ll start taking care of business. I suppose he may write an encyclical (a letter to the world), I image it could be about economic justice and against rampant self-serving capitalism. It will be telling who he chooses to run the Vatican. I wonder what his meeting with the Emeritus Pope will be like. What will they call each other?
Isn’t that weird, to have two living popes?
Well, we don’t. We have just the one – Pope Francis.
Sure, it’s a new thing to have a pope resign, but I think a lovely thing. I also like what it might mean for Pope Francis. Having a confidant. Someone who knows the pressure to call on, if you need it. Someone to be praying for you from a place of experience. Being alone is a difficult place to be.
The church is always new, and it’s always the same.
It’s a human institution and so it is like us, liable to mistakes and problems.
On Wednesday night, Pope Francis talked of us journeying together, and I hope that we do. I hope the election of the this new Latin American pope doesn’t change the way we look at the Vatican so much as it changes the way we look at the Church. It is bigger, it is global. We are not the center. As a matter of fact, there is no center. Maybe if we spent less time commenting on the behavior of the Vatican and more time emulating the behavior of Jesus, we would all be a little better off
In many ways, Pope Francis is both a tiny and a huge step for the Roman Catholic Church.
Let us take the tiny steps we can take together and cling to each other in hope and love.
Long Live Pope Francis.
A few places I would refer you for more reading follow.
A good profile of the Pope done prior to the election
An interesting account of Pope Francis’ first morning