The Jesuitness of Pope Francis

charis_logoSo my colleagues at Charis Ministries in Chicago have asked a rather provocative question:

Why Should Pope Francis attend a Charis Retreat?

And so I would like to offer the Top 10 reasons why a Ignatian Retreat and specifically a Charis Retreat would benefit the likes of Papa Francisco.

images-11) A Transition is a Great Time for a Retreat: Pope Francis is in the midst of an unexpected transition. Moving from Argentina to Italy alone has got to be jarring, never mind the move from his simple quarters to the Papal Suite in the Vatican (reportedly, the Pope said it was too large for him and said “You could fit 300 people in here). So I’d like to recommend that he attends a What’s Next Retreat–which is based specifically on the experience of making transitions. You should join him if you’ve gotten a new job, moved to a new city, graduated college or graduate school, entered the job force for the first time, just gotten married or divorced or are expecting a child. Transitions are crazy! And Ignatian spirituality focuses us on the principle of indifference—trying to have the faith that says that no matter what befalls us and no matter how scary things are, God will get us through anything.

2) The Value of Silence: Each Charis retreat really values silence and the opportunity to take time away from the noise that often constantly surrounds us. Do you remember those first moments on the Papal balcony? The Pope actually asked for silence and you could hear a pin drop in the square as people prayed for our new Pontiff. Perhaps we all need just a few moments in our lives to cultivate silence for even just a short time.

3) Simplicity: If nothing else, the new Pope loves being with people and sharing stories of his own. That’s precisely what Charis retreats are based on. The experience of finding God in everyday life is where we all are. So the retreats meet us firmly on that ground and then moves us to consider where God might be in that experience. I read today where the Pope called the newsstand where he got his morning paper and cancelled his subscription. Can we find God in the simple moments of the day like buying the morning paper or riding the bus. It seems to me that the Pope can help others understand this well.

4) For the Least of Our Brothers and Sisters: Charis Retreats always center on the experience of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Pope has seen much suffering in the slums of Buenos Aires and the experience of the global south certainly knows poverty much better than we do in the United States. Do we have the ability to see God in these experiences of poverty and how are we poor ourselves? For the least provides an opportunity to reflect on the experience of serving others who are in need instead of merely doing a good deed and then going on our way. Have we been able to name where we find Christ in these experiences?

5) Ignatius and Francis: Why would a Jesuit take Francis as his name? Well, it’s actually quite appropriate! Ignatius was a big admirer of Francis. During his period of convalescence he read all about Francis and placed himself in the stories of Francis and in his imagination he discovered that he enjoyed imitating the life of Francis much more than the gallant knights that he had tried to become like before. On Charis retreats, you’re able to use these imaginative exercises where you place yourself in the stories of Francis, Ignatius and Jesus and other imaginative scenes. By putting our creative imagination at the service of our faith we find that we meet God more clearly in these experiences and are able to more readily integrate our deepest desires about who we most want to be into action.

6) Contemplative in Action: Ignatius implores us to be people in the world but not of the world. To be contemplative in action, to not merely experience our lives by living them but also by reflecting back on our experiences. With the number of stories we’ve already heard from Pope Francis, I am certain that he shares that value and has reflected deeply on his more than 75 years.

7) Forgiveness: Charis retreats always center on the experience of being a “loved sinner.” And Pope Francis has clearly talked about a God who always forgives us in the early days of his Papacy. I often lead the reconciliation service on the retreats that I coordinate with one of our team members. And it’s always a moving experience to see people come back from the sacrament of reconciliation renewed and refreshed in the forgiveness of God’s love. Imagine being able to go to confession to the Pope?! And imagine being a priest and hearing the Pope’s confession?!

8. Servant Leadership: Charis retreats are run by young adults for young adults. They are based in peer leadership where we serve the needs of one another. We now have a Pope who is doing that with his brother priests and more importantly, brother Cardinals. His spirit of collegiality would fit in well on a Charis retreat and while he’s not a young adult, I could see him leading us as spiritual director and showing other priests the importance of being with young people.

9) Magis: The great Cardinal Tagle of Manilla once reminded us that we don’t just work for the glory of God, but rather we work for the GREATER glory of God. We stretch ourselves beyond our usual modes of participating in life, to become somewhat uncomfortable, to reflect on matters we often have no time for in our busy lives. We do so in order to define what the Magis is for each one of us. We discern, rather than simply decide who we are to be. The Pope has been echoing those words in the early days of his papacy and it’s pretty clear that he’s working not only to fulfill the demands of the Papacy, but also to show each of us where greater glory resides in the experience of fulfilling our roles in life. Sitting on a weekend with Charis Retreats, we hope to find that greater glory that calls to us, that helps us become all that God calls us to be.

10) Open to Questions: Don’t you get the feeling that you could just ask Pope Francis anything and he’d answer you with love? That’s a great principle of Ignatian Spirituality, being open to the questions and exploring all facets of them. We come to God with all of who we are: our hopes, our dreams, our gifts…but also our fears, our doubts, our insecurities. Charis retreats offers a non-judgemental sacred space to explore those aspects of who we are.

Lastly, the Pope should come and join Charis Retreats in the great spirit of Ignatius, not merely because he’s a Jesuit and not merely because Charis expresses much of his own personal spirituality and not even because the Pope needs to be around young people. Rather, the Pope should be able to take some time for himself and renew his own sense of where God is calling HIM! Young people in their 20s and 30s are eager to share their journey of faith and have been moved by the Pope sharing much of how he sees God working in his life even in the simplest of ways.

Be it a bus ride, a morning paper, a visit to the slums, a phone call or even a simple kiss and hug, Papa Francisco is able to share with his actions and his words just how vibrant God is working in his life.

And that’s exactly what happens on a Charis Retreat.

So I’m conducting Charis’ What’s Next Retreat in the Buffalo area on June 7-9…that’s the one focused on transitions. Perhaps the Pope will need a mini-break from this whirlwind tour he’s been on and I would love to provide him with an opportunity to be with us….even if just in spirit. (Email me for information:

ignloyAfter all, he is and always will be a son of Ignatius. That spirit has made him all that he is.

And now it inspires all of us as well. Seeing God in all things is our challenge and taking just a bit of time to examine that in our lives is something we all should do and need to do.

And if that’s good enough for the Pope, than it’s good enough for all of us.

The Early Pope Haters Need to Give It a Rest

So I’ve been talking with many old friends and reading a lot of what people have to say about the new Pope. Many have said that when Fr. Bergoglo, SJ was the Provincial of the Jesuits in Buenos Aires, he was not well liked. One article went on to say that he “ruled with an iron fist.”
Another person said he was a “divisive” person and that nobody liked him. A third said he failed to smile the whole time he was provincial.

It kind of reminded me of the story of a Paulist, Fr. Frank Diskin, CSP who is now deceased. I was very close with Padre Francisco, as the Latin Americans in our parish called him. He started the Hispanic Ministry at St. Paul’s in New York City, learning the language and doing a lot of outreach in Hell’s Kitchen to hispanics in the housing projects and in the outlying neighborhoods. In his old age, I began working for his religious community and we became fast friends, sharing a love of baseball, him the Red Sox and me the Mets and the Cubs. He was simple a sweet old man and I enjoyed his old stories of doing missions in Utah and working in hispanic ministry and his tales of his beloved Boston. A BC guy, he’d chide me about my Fordham loyalty as well.

I loved him, we all did.

But if you’d ask some of the guys who were about 20 years younger than Frank, they’d say he was a very tough pastor, not a bad man, but someone very, very demanding and a harsh critic. They didn’t have the fondest memories of the 20-years-ago-Frank.

One Paulist remarked to me,

EH! All the older guys were like that. Frank was no better or worse than any of them. Now they’re all retired, so they’ve all “mellowed out.”

And I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing in our new Pope. He’s an older man who now realizes some things aren’t worth getting all worked up over. I can hear him saying “Cars pollute the air, so I take the bus. This is the way it is.”

There’s nobody who says he wasn’t a good listener. They may not have liked the results of some of his decisions, but they respected him looking at all angles, especially on Liberation Theology.

But it drives me crazy when certain people dredge up old grudges and talk about them as if they were fresh wounds, or mention that it makes the Pope a more conservative Jesuit.

If this is conservative…I’d wonder what liberal is like.

Like myself, the Pope is a social conservative but a liberal economist. He cares about the poor and finds that fundamental to his theology, but on sexual issues he remains silent, keeping the doctrinal status quo. I’m more of a middling social conservative (pro-life but not so staunch on anything else–or better stated, I’m not so concerned with the other hot button sexual issues…but that’s a column for another time).

I can live with this guy. And let’s face facts, we weren’t getting anything different with any of these guys. They’re all conservatives..but the fact that this Pope is vociferous on the needs of the poor and has some first hand experience with the slums, leads we to believe that his first encyclical will be on care for the poor.

A few weeks back I made a checklist for what I thought the Pope should be like. Here’s how the new Pope ranks on the Hayes Scale:

Enthusiasm: Got it in spades.

Humility: Again got it in spades.

Vitality: OK, so he’s old. That could be a good thing. Read on.

Language: He’s no polyglot, but he’s adequate.

Collegial: Cmon the guy takes the bus with the Cardinals. He wants his priests to get along. Period.

A good preacher: Did ya catch yesterday?

Off the cuff, humble, open…a good preacher. Whattya know?

A first hand experience of the poor: Hello! The guy went to the slums.

Intelligent: Smart enough to do something different. So far, so good.

Understands the media: So far he’s a rock star.

Healthy and scandal free: Tom Reese had an excellent column about Pope Francis’ past today in NCR:

Here was my big takeaway:

In the face of tyranny, there are those who take a prophetic stance and die martyrs. There are those who collaborate with the regime. And there are others who do what they can while keeping their heads low. When admirers tried to claim that John Paul worked in the underground against Nazism, he set them straight and said he was no hero.

Those who have not lived under a dictatorship should not be quick to judge those who have, whether the dictatorship was in ancient Rome, Latin America, Africa, Nazi Germany, Communist Eastern Europe, or today’s China. We should revere martyrs, but not demand every Christian be one.

So to all you haters out there…can ya give the guy a chance to piss you off before you rip him in your columns and online? I mean he hasn’t even got pasta sauce on the white outfit yet! You’re becoming that critical teacher from high school who you could never satisfy and who nobody liked.

So prayers and more prayers for the kinder, more mellow Papa Francisco. We can only hope that your inspiration can help us all restore dignity to the poor and in so doing do the same thing for our church.

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

John Thavis reports on the first 24 hours of Pope Francis’ Papacy today. We saw much of the humbleness and simplicity of our new Pope last night on the Papal balcony. Here are some of my observations and then I’ll add some new events that John has informed us about:

1) Simplicity: The new Pope refused to don the red cape (mozetta) often associated with the pomp and circumstance of the Papal announcement. Secondly, he refused a new gold pectoral cross, continuing to wear the same one he wore as Bishop.

2) Humbleness: The Pope bowed and asked for our blessing as the people of God. That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen a Pope do and a stark contrast to Benedict XVI’s congratulatory clasped hands of victory from when he was named and then the outstretched arms of both the now Pope Emeritus and Pope John Paul II. There is a marked contrast from their appearance where they seem to be saying “Here I am!” to Pope Francis’ more humble and gentle wave which said to me “Hi, I guess you are all here to see the Pope but instead you got me. Good evening.”

Even the simple greeting of “My brothers and sisters, Good evening!” And the self deprecation of “going to the end of the earth” to find a Pope screamed of “They picked little old me.”

3) Collegiality: My sense is that this a man who just wants everyone to get along. And he wants to be available to his brother Cardinals. He refused the Papal chair preferring to meet the Cardinals standing face to face. It had the feel of “I want to look these men in the eye and know them well.” John Thavis tells the one story that has made the media rounds and a few more.

After his blessing last night to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square and to the world, Vatican aides told the pope a limousine was waiting to take him to his temporary quarters in the Vatican’s residence building. The new pope said he’d rather take the bus back with the cardinals – and he did.

This morning, the pope’s first act was to leave the Vatican for an impromptu visit to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in central Rome. No doubt someone told him: “But Holy Father, we need time to plan these visits very carefully.” He wisely didn’t listen. Yes, his presence snarled traffic and caused a major stir, but the Romans loved it.

Instead of taking the main car in the papal fleet, a Mercedes with the “SCV 1” license plate, he rode in a more modest sedan.

On the way inside the basilica, he stopped to wave to high school students across the street. After praying before a popular icon of Mary, he told confessors at the church to “be merciful, the souls of the faithful need your mercy.”

Then he stopped personally at a clerical guest house where he had been staying in recent days, a few steps from Piazza Navona, to pick up his suitcases and “pay his bill,” as he told cardinals the night before. One can presume his Vatican handlers offered to send someone else on this humdrum task, but Pope Francis did it his way.

“That’ll be $72.45, your Holiness. We hope you enjoyed your stay.” Imagine being the guy who got to say THAT this morning and probably after the Pope insisted on not having his room comped, or at the very least picked up by some diocesan lackey. To be fair, the money is likely not coming out of the Pope’s own pocket but rather the diocesan travel budget, but it is refreshing to see a man of his stature take care of this on his own. Folks who have interviewed him including Fr. Tom Rosica of Salt and Light TV have said that the Pope cooks for himself and he’s always eager to tell people that he does so.

4) His Own Man: This Pope seems to be his own man, setting a new charter for the Papacy from the start. He’s a conservative, so probably no big changes and at 76 this should be another short Papacy, but you never know, they said the same thing about John XXIII. The name is a huge sign that this is not “business as usual”. The Vatican confirmed that he took the name Francis, for Francis of Assisi. As a Jesuit, some wondered why he would not have taken Ignatius. Well, for one, Ignatius didn’t want his followers to seek high offices like this, preferring to work alongside those kinds of people. So St. Ignatius would probably blanche at a Pope Ignatius. But Ignatius was also enamored by Francis of Assisi and tried hard to imitate him. As a Bishop who values simplicity and takes the bus to work and was known to visit the slums, Pope Francis takes the name of the saint of the poor. And the Italians, love Francis of Assisi! So we have a guy who knows his audience!

Some final thoughts:

5) Ignatian Spirituality: I’m excited to see a Jesuit as Pope, even one who is much more conservative than most American Jesuits that I know. In Pope Francis we seem to already have a man who depends on God, who is indifferent to his calling. He made it known last time that he was not ready to take on such a calling. But now, this time around, perhaps after much prayer, Papa Francisco, has accepted his calling as one from God, whose love and grace is enough for him to make it through each day.

6) Pragmatism: Some complain that while the Pope has been touted for being a man of the poor, he also did not favor Liberation Theologians in Argentina. But he embraced the central message of the “preferential option for the poor” without embracing the political activism that many espoused at that time. A pragmatic position that centered on parish work being primary and not political agendas being at the center of ministry. While I think he could have embraced both ends of that spectrum, I can respect his position and am happy to see that he was able to look at both sides of the issue and come to a compromise position that honors the theory of liberation theology while not espousing some of the practices that based themselves in Marxist policies, politically speaking. (I’ll write more on this today).

In short, I’m hopeful that the Cardinals elected a “compromise” candidate, who will lead our church in new ways, and will be his own man and not who others expect him to be.

ANd that might be a sign to us that we too, need to be ourselves. We need to be who God created us to be and that doing so is indeed more than enough.

For us, for the world and for God.

A Jesuit Named Francis…A Little Something For Everyone

Habemus Papem! We have a Pope.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, S.J. of Argentina emerged from the conclave clad in white. A new pope and he’s a Jesuit, my favorite order and he took the name Francis, a man of peace.

Sounds good so far.

And it sounds like he’s a good mix of the ideological sides that the church usually finds itself mixed up with.

For those who think he’ll be a liberal because of his Jesuit affiliation, that’s not the case, or it least it hasn’t appeared to be.

He’s an ideological conservative, so non of the hot-button issues are going to change, but he’s got a heart for the poor. He took a public bus instead of a limo as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

He took the name Francis, a name nobody has taken before to indicate that this will not be business as usual. We’re getting a new chief in town and at 76, Pope Francis knows this will not be a long papacy. So look for governance to get a shake up–but not in the form of a Papal smack down, rather this is a return to simplicity, a non-ceremonious Pope that prefers simplicity to pomp and circumstance. We often think of Francis as a man of peace, but he was also the man who stood defiantly naked in the city square renouncing his father’s riches. I see in the new pope a bit of the passion of Francis of Assisi (who Vatican media confirmed that he was honoring Francis of Assissi) who saw a vision telling him “Francis, repair my church!” I also see a bit of Ignatius, who was quite practical and sought lots of advice and put his intellect at the service of his faith.

And the biggest thing of all is he is not a Euro-Centric Pope. He knows what poverty is and is focused on it. He took the bus instead of a limo (for security reasons that will change now). He lived in a simple apartment and did his own cooking (which he was often proud of telling others about). WHile not Euro-Centric in his thought, his father is also Italian, so he’s able to speak the language and knows a bit about Italian culture, which is always good in the Vatican.

He’s a pragmatist and takes lots of advice. When Liberation Theology was rising in the global south, he didn’t just wave their thoughts away and call them the thoughts of a Marxist regime, but rather he smartly, dismissed what he didn’t like about Liberation Theology, while touting that the needs of the poor need to be paid attention to. So he seems to listen and then makes a judgement about what’s important.

Simplicity and good relations…look for a well traveled man, who is able to find people he can trust in the Curia and that we can come to trust as well. Creating a period of openness and transparency will be key for this Papacy and he seems up to the job. He was widely rumored to be the runner up last time out and so the question that predominated the Conclave again is a simple one: Who do we trust? Papa Bergoglio is a man who appeals in some measure to please just about everyone.

So celebrate Jesuits, as the first Jesuit Pope the first Hispanic Pope and the first Pope from South America, was elected today.

Conclave Day 1: Opening Thoughts on Papal Election

The Cardinals prayed together this morning for guidance and that the Holy Spirit be with them as they gather to elect a new Pope.

What will happen today is fairly straightforward. The Cardinals will take their oath of not merely secrecy, but also one that says they have not be coerced in their vote. That the person they vote for is the person they truly believe is called to lead the church.

Many of the Cardinals say that this first vote begins to show what everyone is thinking. You get a “read of the room” as to how the Cardinals are considering things. The big question that gets answered with this first vote is “Who do we trust?”

So here’s some thoughts from me about who might be picked and moreover why. I’ll simply talk about three or four trends and then cite some individual names that go along with that trend.

1) The Italian Contingent: The Italians have the largest number of votes (28 of the 115). But that’s still far short of the 77 needs for a two-thirds majority. So while they could produce the first trend, the question is can the Italian block even agree on a candidate amongst themselves? The early conversations show wide divisions on how the Vatican should be governed, but also shows many people believe that reform is necessary. If an Italian is selected, they need to have big numbers early. So unless these men have had many conversations about which one of them they are going to put forward I see three possible situations occurring:

a) Cardinal Angelo Scola has widely been listed as the Papal front runner because he’s Italian but has been a Vatican outsider as the Archbishop of Milan. He could garner a good number of ballots if the Italians have floated his name as the best candidate from among their group and could take an early lead if not an insurmountable one on that first ballot. He probably won’t be elected on the first shot, but if he can get to 50 votes or even 40, that might be enough to tip the scales in his favor.

b) Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who has been the head of the Italian Bishop’s Conference is a pragmatic centrist. And is very well liked amongst his own people. The way I look at this is that the Italians already elected him once to an office as the President of the Bishop’s Conference and he’s done a good job there. So it shouldn’t be too hard for him to gain some support here either.

c) The Italians may very well be active in forming a coalition for another candidate from outside of their own country and I think three names top that list. One is Cardinal Mark Ouellet, from Quebec who is respected as the head of the Congregation for Bishops and is seen as a conservative who can clean things up in the Curia. He knows six languages and is popular with the Latin Americans because he taught in Latin America for some time. So there could be a Latino/Italian bloc that coalesces on Ouellet for Pope.
A second candidate is Cardinal Odilio Scherer from Brazil which is a country with the largest amount of Catholics in it. He also worked at the Prefect of Bishops but also has the pastoral experience that some of the candidates lack. He is well-liked and could be picked easily.

2) The Reform of the Curia: So the Roman Curia needs serious overhaul in the mind of many of the prelates in the conclave. And the Curia is filled with Italians. So while they have the most votes, the question is will anyone else vote with them, and can they even agree themselves?

One of the things that stands out in my mind is that this past week when the Americans set up really great press briefings that were candid and really explained the thought process of the whole selection of the Pope, many of the Italian Cardinals seemed to resent the Americans. Some of the Italian Cardinals (or at least one) began to leak information in the Italian media that was supposed to be private. The Americans talked in more generalities. But then the crackdown: the Cardinals got together and told everyone to shut up. The Americans deeply resented this. It was like they were being punished for something that the Italians did. This could have deep implications for the Americans now looking for a candidate from outside Italy.
That said, I doubt it would be an American. Scherer, who we talked about could be one possibility. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Germany was the kingmaker last time and is well-known amongst many Americans, especially amongst any who may have spent time in Germany studying or sent their priests to study there. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (pronounced TAHG-Lay) from the Pilippines is the only Asian Candidate that I think can receive widespread support and he’s my personal favorite as a choice. He may be too young but now that retirement is an option, the notion of age may indeed no longer be a huge factor. He could be a good “compromise” choice as well should no candidates garner a strong majority. If this goes to a fourth ballot, look for him to emerge.

3) Outside Rome: Africa and Latin America have been floated as strong possibilities this time. Cardinal Peter Turkson has been atop many lists of Papibile, but I doubt he will have much supoort. He’s fallen just short of campaigning for the job. One person who I see as a serious wildcard contender is the Nigerian Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan. Nigeria is a place that Catholicism has truly grown in with a “problem” of too many seminarians. I studied at Fordham with Nigerian priests and they spoke well of him as someone who pushed for Democratic reform and who has a heart for the poor of his land. A longshot perhaps, but one never knows.
On the Latin American side, we’ve already talked about Scherer. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ is a conservative Jesuit who is the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina and is part-Italian. He’s well liked and gave Pope Benedict a run for his money last time as the candidate who supposedly (from a leaked Cardinal’s diary) had the second most votes. He’s older now at 76, but could still garner some support. Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriquez Maradiaga has falled off most lists of Papabilli, but he has been touted before. He’s from Honduras and the President of the Latin American Bishop’s conference. I’ve heard him speak before and he’s amazing though most think he’s too progressive to garner enough support.

Finally from the good old USA, I will maintain that Cardinal Dolan is the only one who has a real chance. For the past week I’ve been hearing Cardinal O’Malley’s name mentioned as a possible candidate as well, but I’m doubtful that they’ll elect anyone who has Boston as a link, even if he did help the Boston Archdiocese heal from the sex abuse scandal. I also don’t think they will elect someone from a religious order and Cardinal Sean, as he likes to be called, is a Capuchin Franciscan. Dolan meanwhile is well-liked for his brash conservatism. He led the North American College in Rome so he has friends in high places and he has a grasp of the media. The question is whether some find him too media-centric. He could very well play a big role as a kingmaker this time out in forming a coalition for a particular candidate.

I am really rooting for Cardinal Tagle from Manilla in the Philippines. And would like to see him select Cardinal Ouellet as the secretary of state. He’d need someone from the “inside” who knows where the bodies are buried to help him gain control of the administrative parts of the job, but he would be very good at the more “external” role. It leads me to believe that perhaps they should elect two people–Co-Popes. One a good administrator and the other a good speaker a evangelizer.

Two final notes: Could they simply elect Pope Benedict again? I’ve actually heard that as a possibility. I doubt it would happen, but it’s an interesting possibility.

I also think that this could be a long conclave and perhaps we should root for that. These men might well be in need of some time outside of their normal role to really consider what the church needs, what they’ve done wrong and right with their jobs and what needs to happen to really lead the church in this millennium.

That said, we need to pray. That we might be united in prayer with them today in hoping that the Holy Spirit can get them out of their own wants and desires and to think about what the church needs and to see where God is calling them this week.

Welcome to Conclave

Here’s how the Conclave should start!

That said…

Let us pray for the Cardinals that they might be guided by the Holy Spirit. Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit…fill the hearts of the princes of the Church and enkindle in them the fire of your love for the world. Help them find a Pope who can lead us, who has a heart for the least of us and who can bring us much enthusiasm for the faith. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

My Thoughts on a New Pope

So if I were a Papal elector, what would I be looking for? Well, I have several requirements:

1) Enthusiasm: The Pope needs to do the rah-rah stuff. He needs to be able to motivate both laity and clergy to have some enthusiasm for the faith once again. Catholicism is a dirty word in many circles, we need a Pope who can help debunk that thought and garner our religion some respect and vigor once again.

2) Humility: The Pope needs humility. The Pope needs to be reminded of his own humanity alongside the powerful position that he will have. He should be someone comfortable talking with a Nobel prize winner as well as the school custodian.

3) Vitality: After two Popes who have been older, we need a younger Pope. We need a Pope who can travel with ease and not get too run down. This is a back breaking job and we need someone who can withstand that kind of schedule.

4) Language: The Pope needs to speak many languages. I’d put four at the top of the list: Spanish, Italian, English and Mandarin. China, already a world power will need a Pope who can speak candidly with them.
You’d be surprised how important this is in the Papacy.

5) Collegial: The Pope cannot be a micro manager, but at the same time, the Pope needs to be able to trust those who work in the curia and be kept informed of the day to day operations so there are no surprises. Therefore, I’d prefer a Pope who was more pastoral and a secretary of state who was more of a strong administrator. The New York Times agrees with me:

Few candidates come with the whole package of talents, and the Italian news media have even floated the notion that the cardinals are considering “tickets” that would pair a pastoral pope with a tough, savvy secretary of state who could act as an administrator and, if need be, enforcer.

So think Ed Koch as Pope but Mike Bloomberg as the Secretary of State in terms of personality. It should be noted that Bloomberg is a good administrator but is also a very gracious man who is tough when he needs to be.

6) A GOOD PREACHER: The Pope cannot be a boring preacher. The Pope needs to tell inspiring stories. The Pope needs to reach out to young people using media. The Pope needs to awaken us to the wisdom that lies in our tradition and in scripture and most important, the Pope needs to be able to show priests and deacons and certainly Bishops how to preach, how to inspire. I’ve heard many a bad homily from a Bishop and more from Pastors and Deacons. Fortunately, we have good preachers at our parish, but I wonder what the life of the faithful is like where people are being served by those who fail to inspire.

7) A First-hand Experience of the Poor: One of the biggest things about World Youth Day was hearing where young people were serving the church. Like this guy:

And we thought we had problems here in the United States. Has the Pope been inspired by this experience of poverty? The last two Popes have highlighted the need for us to be involved with the poor, but they were both Eurocentric. I think it’s time for a Pope from the developing world.

8. Intelligent: We’d assume this most often, but I’m taking it a step further. The Bishop of Rome is a teacher, someone who can take complex theological ideas and proclaim them to people less educated than he is. Someone who can square biblical principles with adult critical reasoning. People need religious education today and with the evolution of media wouldn’t it be great if the Pope taught a Catholic basics course online?

9) Understands the Media: The Pope needs to understand how the media works and can be able to use the media to proclaim his message both from his own platform, but also in the mainstream. How will the media report on this? Is a big question to ask every time something big is going to be released. This was a disaster in Pope Benedict’s papacy, which most likely led to his resignation. An inability to keep up with the media is not a good quality for the Vatican to have.

10) Healthy and Scandal-Free: Perhaps someone who hasn’t been a Cardinal or even a bishop for that long is a good candidate for this reason. It would give us someone who is likely untainted by the sexual abuse scandal, but also someone who can handle cleaning the mess of that up without being reviled by that. Both physical health and personal integration are key in the next Pope. Who is someone who people can respect intellectually and see the strength that lies in their spirit. We need a Pope that someone can look at and say: “Now there’s a smart man that I can respect. A Holy man.

A final one:

11) A Person of Deep Prayer: Let’s face facts, we all know people who pray and we all know people who do not. The Pope needs to be someone who can pray with and for the flock as their shepherd. He also needs to know that God is with him on the journey. I hope the Pope avails himself of a spiritual director who can journey with him and help him see where God is lurking in his Papacy, because that is something that can easily get lost in all of this.

So pray for the Pope, whoever he might be. And pray for the new Curia, those administrators who will work in the Vatican. They will all need our prayers.