Thursday, March 13 marked the one year anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as head of the Roman Catholic Church.
If you’ve been following my blog over the past year, you know that I was in St. Peter’s Square on the night of March 13, 2013 to witness the historic papal election. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event and I can only hope I am lucky enough to see something like that again.
The excitement is so tangible in Rome during a papal conclave that you can practically smell it as you meander throughout the city and Romans impatiently wait for the bells to ring out announcing their new bishop has been chosen. I’ll never forget the suspense in the air that you could cut with a butcher’s knife leading up to when the College of Cardinals announced that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentinian Cardinal, was elected as the next Bishop of Rome. Not to mention the pouring rain conditions that I stood in for hours to see the white smoke and new pope, but it was totally worth it.
As a Catholic, I questioned the Church and many of its teachings in recent years. There are many doctrinal points that I disagree with, such as the Church’s viewpoints on contraception, ordination of women, same-sex marriage and the fact that priests cannot marry.
While the Church’s positions on these issues have not changed in the year since Francis took the reigns, they have softened, if ever so slightly. We now have a pope who thinks women should play a greater role in the Church. We now have a pope who says its “ok to be gay” and “if a gay person seeks the Lord, who am I too judge?” We now have a pope who believes that children born out-of-wedlock can be baptized. This past year has been a monumental step considering that it took two thousands years for a pope to openly express these views.
Similar to when Obama was elected, many Catholics probably thought that Francis would walk on water and fix all of the Church’s problems. But it took a long, long time for those problems to even be identified let alone the many years before that when the problems originated.
If Francis has made one thing clear over the past year, it is that he’s anything but business as usual at the Vatican. He has suspended priests who abuse their power and live too lavishly. He regularly breaks bread with the poor on the streets of Rome outside the Vatican. He chose to live in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the regal papal apartments and dresses in a humble manner compared to his predecessors.
But there is a take away lesson that I want you to understand: Pope Francis is not perfect. Yes, despite his portrayal as a savior of the Church and the observation that he’s a media darling, he is not God, he will not fix everything, and he doesn’t have all the answers. If the pope did one thing to help the Church this past year, it was that he boldly signaled that he’s open to change. And at this stage in the game, that’s AMAZING. Given that the Church has been around longer than anyone can even fathom, to show that he’s open to discussion about how to modernize this ancient institution is a Godsend (no pun intended). Change takes A LOT of time, especially with old people and old things and both run the Catholic Church.
I know that we can expect unbelievable things from this pope. The Holy Father hasn’t quite won me over yet, but he has warmed me up to the possibility that the Catholic Church can become an institution that preaches how to be a true follower of Christ. Whatever his real agenda is, he has shown me that he is a humble man who cares about helping others and spreading good will, and for now that’s good enough for me. But he needs to keep “walking the walk” and showing that he is committed to cleaning up the Church and making it move with the times, otherwise the so-called “Pope Francis effect” of the past year will drizzle away and become a history lesson.
If you’re interested in following the pope, you should know that he has a busy 2014 ahead of him. He has committed trips to Israel and the Holy Land and South Korea, and is flirting with a trip to the U.S. next year. On April 27, he will preside over the canonization of Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II (when both will officially become Catholic saints). These canonizations were widely expected and John Paul II has been on the fast track to sainthood since his death in 2005. The Vatican estimates that over one million pilgrims will travel to Rome for the ceremony on Divine Mercy Sunday.
Here’s to hoping that the second year of Pope Francis’ papacy is just as progressive as his first!