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Marcheschi: Pope offers much hope

Graziano Marcheschi is executive director university ministry for St. Xavier University Chicago.

Graziano Marcheschi is executive director of university ministry for St. Xavier University in Chicago.

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Updated: November 7, 2013 6:42AM



It seems that almost as soon as the words “habemus papam!” (“We have a pope!”) echoed from that Vatican window in March, the world fell in love with the man who had just assumed the 2,000-year-old mantle of the Roman Papacy.

He was a Jesuit, and there had never been one. He chose the name Francis, which none ever had chosen. He refused the trappings of his office, declined to move into the papal apartment, washed a Muslim woman’s feet on Holy Thursday and carried his bag onto an airplane.

The world never has seen a pope like this, and for the first time in recent memory, the word “pope” does more than just rhyme with “hope.” His love for the poor, his simplicity and humility, his candor and energy and charisma have captured the world’s imagination.

People like this pope. He’s making them think that Catholicism can be revitalized and relevant again. The Catholic Church’s dirty laundry has hung out in the open air for far too long, and the hope is that Pope Francis can eradicate the church of the grime that soiled it in the first place.

But this pope is a bit confusing. He speaks of the concrete and immediate needs of the poor and then, with equal facility, adverts to matters of the spirit, even those that many consider out of fashion. Both the political left and right can claim him, though at this point it seems the left is more comfortable with this Italian-Argentine who appears unresponsive to the demands of his staff that he act more like a pope.

No question that Pope Francis’ style is different, but what puzzles many is whether there is substance beneath the style. When the novelty wears off, will the world see a different Catholic Church with women priests and gay couples exchanging vows in its churches? That answer lies at the heart of what the church is and who the pope is.

Unlike American democracy, the church does not operate according to opinion polls. Updating doesn’t mean changing dogma but finding new and clearer ways of expressing what the church has always believed.

The pope cannot be swayed by popular opinion. It’s often his job to tell people what they don’t want to hear — whether that’s about taking the life of the unborn, oppressing the poor, neglecting the needs and rights of immigrants or any of the sexual and lifestyle issues that so often dominate public discussion.

The pope is the chief teacher and shepherd of the church. His responsibility is to pass on the faith of the Apostles intact, according to the will of Christ. That faith has been taught consistently for 2,000 years, and no pope can change it. But does that mean that those who have pinned their hopes on Pope Francis will turn against him? Maybe. But maybe not.

The continued popularity of President Obama is not based on his delivery of every campaign promise he made. People like him and realize he has to work within the limits of his office — an office that requires compromise and is privy to information that may lead to conclusions that one would not have reached before entering the White House.

Popes who teach the faith of the church are still unique individuals, and each leaves a mark according to his distinct character. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were very different men, and though each was thoroughly orthodox, their legacies are different.

Pope Francis’ style can’t be dismissed as a show. In many ways, style also is substance. His simple lifestyle already is persuading some of the “princes” of the church, the cardinals who govern the major dioceses of the world, to examine their lifestyles.

His emphasis on the poor will, no doubt, translate into action by those inspired by his eloquence. Some may enter the priesthood who might otherwise not have considered it. And people may listen to this pope and hear the ancient truths of which he speaks as if they were newly minted.

Graziano Marcheschi is executive director of university ministry for St. Xavier University in Chicago.



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