Saturday, March 16, 2013

Habemus papam!

When I went to bed on Wednesday night, I had no inkling that I would wake to Thursday morning to a a new pope. Habemus papam! Certainly an event of joy to Catholics at large, but packed with surprise on many levels.

One, the speed at which the election took place. The conclave started only last Monday, and by Wednesday (Rome time), the cardinals had selected the new pope. In hindsight, Benedict XVI was wise to step down when he did: the period of transition turned out to be less turbulent than in the past.

Two, the choice of pope. Cardinal Bergoglio was not in any of the frontrunners floated by the media or the betting pools, and yet, now we have him as Pope Francis. Only in hindsight do the analysts remember that he was the second strongest contender to the papacy in the 2005 election.

Three, the many firsts about the pope. Pope Francis is the first non-European pope, the first Latin American pope, and the first Jesuit pope.

Fourth, the pope himself. The profiles in the news about Pope Francis point to his quiet humility -- how as cardinal he lived in a small apartment, took the bus to work, and cooked his own meals. And now as pope, he still took the bus out of the conclave, and even took time to pay his own hotel bill!

They say that Pope Francis will be a pastoral pope. From his character it looks to be that the Church under his care will be more active in world, but at the same time contemplative and without losing sight of the Church's roots.

"We can walk all we want, we can build many things, but if we don't proclaim Jesus Christ, something is wrong. We would become a compassionate NGO and not a Church which is the bride of Christ," Pope Francis said in his first address. "He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil. When we don't proclaim Jesus Christ, we proclaim the worldliness of the devil, worldliness of the demon." 

Now that's a forceful pope, one who won't mince his words.   It looks to be we're in for a time of changes.