|Courtesy of The Edition|
You will not fail to have noticed that a new chap, one formerly Jorge Bergoglio (the kids had fun trying to pronounce that, believe me), is now the somewhat unexpected Pope Francis. Lots of firsts (first Latin American, first Jesuit, first Jorge Bergoglio, and so on), lots of drama, and from me lots of prayers for a chap who seems to have struck the right note from the off.
I will leave the specifics to the commentators and other self-appointed blogging experts, and simply observe something that struck me and others yesterday.
Do you know where you were when the present Archbishop of Canterbury was announced? The leader of over 76million Christians, the news of Archbishop Justin's appointment to a world-level Christian leadership role was greeted with as much of a whimper as anything. I doubt that they stopped Cash in The Attic, or delayed Eastenders for that. Were you waiting for the momentous news from the vantage point of a tent in Canterbury?
Then you get the situation as just unfolded across the Tiber. People staring at chimneys. People tweeting about seagulls. People camping in Squares, waiting. Commotion, tension, expectation, smiles, joy! Then the smoke (which has its own Twitter Account). Tens of thousands of people cheering. Pomp, ceremony, pageant, more expectation, Sunday-best birettas, a new man emerges to the cheers of a world.
I wonder what might be behind this. What do we learn about the new Pope? That he was a modest and humble man who did good work with the poor, cooked his own paella and took the bus. Of the Archbishop we learned simply that he did the Alpha Course and may once have had another job. Don't get me wrong, I am faithful to my leader and loyal too. I don't care what Course he did because the Spirit called him on. What accounts for the difference?
I have written about this before. You speak to a member of the Pope's church and they won't describe themselves as Christians, but as Catholics. A denominational pride and self-identity would quickly emerge and although international numbers are sliding for them too, you would be talking to a person who belonged to communities who knew that it was right to go to church, that it was not a matter for secrecy. They know that their leader is important to them and I frankly doubt of many Catholic bloggers bash their Pope. I see a reverent loyalty that is lacking in the corridors of the Church of England because we would sooner wage our own private wars, publicly. The Catholics also have a decidedly proud affection for ceremony and ritual whereas in our little church we seem to be afraid even of the title "priest" or indeed those roles that such a title demands. They have a way of marking the moment, making it special, binding it up in ancient ritual which despite being arcane, still works and still means something.
I pray for the new Bishop of Rome as, in his way, I truly believe he prays for me and my family. I wish him a good and successful pontificate as one, I hope, who will walk in grace and goodness with a heart for those matters that clearly meant so much to him before yesterday. For the rest of us, I pray that we can learn a little from what we witnessed yesterday.