Francis brings hope to Catholics worldwide

Francis brings hope to Catholics worldwide

March 19
21:46 2013

The following editorial appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday, March 13.

Endearing anecdotes trail the new Pope Francis as naturally as flowing robes did his predecessors.

Thursday morning he stopped by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay his bill before heading to the Vatican to say mass.

He did not take the bus, but that was his preferred means of travel as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, where he passed up a palace for a small downtown apartment and cooked his own meals.

The choice of this man as pope is a hopeful turn for the Catholic Church and for the communities and nations whose lives it influences.

Francis, better than many clergy, understands the challenges real people face. And a Jesuit from Latin America has to energize Catholic communities in the Bay Area.

Certainly the faithful at the Jesuits’ Santa Clara University are, to put it in non-ecclesiastical terminology, pumped.

For Americans divided on a woman’s right to choose an abortion, increasingly supportive of gay marriage and overwhelmingly – even among Catholics – engaging in birth control, Pope Francis will bring no immediate philosophical shift. The conclave would not have chosen a theological renegade.

But on the other matter that has embroiled the Catholic church in social issues here, child sexual abuse by priests, we are hopeful that Francis might perceive where the church went wrong, not just in sheltering abusive priests for years but in dealing with the aftermath.

Leadership of the church often has seemed to be on another planet from the people and parishes so deeply wronged.

In Argentina, Francis spent time in the slums and preached inclusiveness to the priests under his watch.

A conservative on church doctrine, he nevertheless saw pastoral duties as most important.

He berated priests who refused to baptize the child of a single mother, for example. He called out hypocrisy.

Like popes before him, he has a history of controversy. His conduct during the years of brutal dictatorship in Argentina has been questioned.

Now his personal life will be on world view. How does his humble nature reconcile with his prominence in the church? No obscure choice, he was a finalist in the last papal conclave.

The world will follow his unfolding story because the selection of a pope is not just of consequence to Catholics.

Religious organizations work hard to influence public policy and laws. Just last year, Catholic leaders forced changes in medical coverage for contraception under President Barack Obama’s health care reform.

There have been times in recent years when the Catholic church as an institution seemed more focused on protecting its own than on listening to the people or reaching out to those who were wronged.

We hope that the pope will shift that tone to one of understanding and caring, here and in the rest of the world.

And that, as foretold in the Prayer of St. Francis, he will be an instrument of peace.

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