Thursday, 14 March 2013

Pope Deposes Seagull

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. 


  1. Maybe the difference is doctrinal one - they see their new Leader as the Vicar of God, God's very own chosen representative on eartth and, when he sits in his big chair and says soimething wise, he is 'infallible'. We tend to see the Archbish of Canterbury as the CEO, boss bishop, spokesperson in chief. We don't imbue him with any supernatural abilities and certainly not with 'infallibility'.
    But yes, we could learn something from their excitement.

  2. A very sweet post, Fr David, especially as the Catholic blogosphere has already been awash with much idle speculation and downright nastiness about the new Holy Father. Sadly we're just as prone to factionalism across the Tiber. We have Liberals and Traddies..... Some fear the end of the "Hermeneutic of Continuity" (gasp) whilst others are astonished that the new chap is - well - Catholic in his doctrine. (Wot no women priests?)

    But there we go....

    It has been VERY exciting - my twins were late to bed last night because I was too busy googling the new chap.

    PS The Pope is only infallible only a few very limited doctrinal matters which have already been thrashed out. Apart from that he's a sinner like the rest of us.

    PPS Well I was excited about Archbishop Welby too/ pleased he's also got a blog.

  3. I chuckled at Doorkeeper's comment above, remembering many a similar discussion among my Catholic family members. That said, I must say I enjoyed watching the process of Pope Francis' selection, especially his first moments "on the job", as they say. There's a twinkle in his eye that is decidely welcoming. Straightaway I could envision him riding the bus to work, or tossing his own pancakes ... and even as my own neighbor. To me, this one-among-the-many quality of his is refreshing!

    I pray God grants him great wisdom, skill & vigor in his new role.



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