@Pontifex Habemus Papum Franciscum – We have Pope Francis – Part II

In Music, Religion on March 14, 2013 at 9:00 am

Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected in a surprise choice to be the new leader of the troubled Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, taking the name Francis and becoming the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years.

[When I penned the part preceding this segment, four months ago, I ended it with a quote from St. Francis of Assisi.  That quote and the saint proved to be accidentally prescient!]

He takes his papal name from a thirteenth century frair – St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis took to a vow of poverty and preached the gospel in street corners. He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy. He took to nursing lepers in Assisi. After a pilgrimage to Rome, where he joined the poor in begging at the doors of the churches, he said he had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ, in which the Icon of Christ Crucified said to him,

Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.

He took this to mean the ruined church in which he was presently praying, and so he sold some cloth from his father’s store to assist the priest there for this purpose.

A very touching prayer attributed to him is the hymn Make me a channel of your peace. This rendition of his prayer by Sinead O’Connor, to me represents an acute pain that needs to be healed now:


Make me a channel of your peace:

Where there is hatred, let me bring your love,
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace:
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope,
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.

O Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul!

Make me a channel of your peace:
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The name that the pope has taken on – Francis, represents a general theme of the kind of work that he wants to undertake as mission during his papacy. also keep in mind that he is history’s first priest belonging to the Jesuit order to have been elevated to this position. There are two saints with this name and both intertwined to a theme that the new pope wants to undertake:

  1. St. Francis of Assisi – known for his work with the poor, simple life, evangelization. He was never ordained a priest. Mapping these traits to a new pope who wants to emulate this saint: He is known to have worked with the poor hence has a strong social-justice background. He is known to lead a simple life cooking his own meals and taking public transportation frequently. This would indicate he would kick the red loafers (figuratively!) shun the pomp and pick up the yoke.
  2. St. Francis Xavier – known for his evangelization in india, teaching and localizing the gospel. A founding member of the Jesuit order well known for their vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. The new pope wants us to remember his Jesuit order and the first Jesuit founder by taking on his name. He wants to tell us that the Jesuits have arrived! Their work in establishing social justice, fine institutions of higher learning and contributing to a deeper understanding of theology is well known. St. Francis Xavier tried converting the Brahmin priests in Tiruchendur kovil but fell flat. He did however convert other fishermen with whom I have a direct lineage to

The strengths of both the saints indicate to us that this new pope’s mission will signify:

  1. Social-Justice – Bringing social-justice to the majority of unrepresented poor Catholics in AAA (Asia, Africa, Americas)
  2. Theology – Jesuits are elite, hard-nosed theologians and it is expected that they will continue with the Vatican traditions of doctrine and dogma with very less scope for dramatic change.
  3. Education/evangelization – It is expected that the new pope will build or strengthen institutions of higher learning that will help in the evangelical work of preaching and living the gospel. He will certainly have a huge success in AAA where institutions, religious or otherwise, are lacking!

Here is a BBC panel discussing what we can expect from Pope Francis. Pay especial attention to the concepts of Liberation Theology:

Pope Benedict XVI, by naming himself after a previous pope who healed the rifts created in a war-torn Europe after World War I.  He carried forward the message of unifying people that had drifted apart, mainly the Jews and the Christians, and the Christians and the Catholics, all mostly in Europe while the AAA remained status-quo and under-represented.

I think we can say the pope emeritus was partially successful in bringing about harmony among different groups in Europe. But probably not so successful in reviving a sagging faith among Europeans. At the time we selected the previous pope, there were no smartphones to tweet my thoughts, but I was generally disappointed that my pick of a non-European cardinal did not make it. I lost interest in what he named himself after that. Plus he was the default choice anyway. The cardinals were asking themselves “if not Ratzinger, then who?”.  It just so happens that the current Pope Francis I, was second choice then!

But it’s a shame to go just by a namesake to peer into the strategy, vision and mission of such a leadership role when it would do good for it to actually incorporate a few modern principles of governance.  I mean if Pope Francis does not pan out to be the Francis that we have collectively cracked him out to be, who is to blame? His namesake? Our assumptions?  See how weak the system in taking any constructive criticism?

Pope Francis should issue a five year plan and stick to it. That would be a step towards transparency but I’ll be surprised if that happens any time soon.

That said, the local priest in a church can possibly bring about the greatest positive change than any of these high-flying cardinals can ever imagine. This is where the rubber meets the road and execution succeeds or fails.  If you have the right guy for this task, he probably does not need Vatican to help him execute his wonderful pastoral mission.  The problem?  Not enough of these guys around anymore.

The harvest is plentiful the laborers few – as Jesus himself once said.

That rings true today.  Who wants to be a priest? A life given to celibacy, poverty, piety?  The city does not promote this at all.  You might get a few from the villages.  Unfortunately there is a huge disconnect between what a priest from a village can sermonize over and what a city dweller wants to hear.  It is a painful experience, to say the least!

That said, there will be many who will continue to be disenchanted with religion or it’s leadership.  It’s the nature of the beast.  These are broad trajectories and almost guaranteed not to impact most in the flock of believers, in their lifetimes.  Expect more angst.  The rate of change at the Vatican is extremely slow or near-zero.  Any positive change may be considered a huge plus. 

In a candid interview with Dr. Hans Kung, who wrote about the need for a Vatican Spring, he details out what is wrong with the current curia and what the need of the hour for the Church is:

We treat pope emeritus as a sacked CEO, because that’s the only structure of governance we know about.  Anybody who leaves us, was obviously not the right candidate for the job.  But the truth is, nobody asked (or was given, when asked) for his job description in the first place, to actually rate him based on that job’s requirement.  We were comfortable that he would do what the previous Benedict of the fifteenth century once did.  After a while we forgot what Benedict did back then, or what the pope should be doing now, if he adopts that name as his namesake.  Eventually, Benedict became what Benedict did.

Pope Francis has an immense task in front of him. He needs to first address what it really means to now be finally represented! Is it a fund-flow from the haves to the have-nots, is it in giving voice to the ills of the poor? There will be an undeniable moving forward in some of the aspects of Vatican II. Just by the mere fact he now champions social-justice. Will this include women getting a bigger role in the church? I tend to think that he will at least lend an ear as a true Argentinian as they are great conversationalists and love to talk endlessly on any topic under the sun, including Vatican II, one would assume.

My sincere hope is that he does not shrug his shoulders on Vatican II and say mañana – meaning tomorrow, as a somewhat laid back culture of Argentina would propose!

Update: March 25th, 2013

Maundy Thursday @ Juvenile Detention Center – 6m 10s

Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday is the Thursday preceding Easter.  Along with Good Friday, it forms one of the three holy days that focus on the passion (suffering), death and resurrection of the Christ.  Jesus was to have his last meal with his followers on that day.  This gathering for a Last Supper with him, commemorates a new and important commandment that Jesus gave his deciples.

The term Maundy  is derived from Mandatum, or mandate or commandment.  Jesus takes a bowl of water to each of his deciple’s feet and washes them with love.  Jewish custom to this day considers the feet as non-kosher, dirty and unclean.  Washing the feet is an act of humility that can only be propelled by love.  He explains the significance of this act thus:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you 

Pope Francis kicks his mission of love and humility into high gear this Maundy Thursday.  In a break-away from tradition, he is to hold a mass not at the Vatican.  Instead he would wash the feet of juvenile inmates of a prison in the outskirts of Rome.  Prisoners because they are a threat to society, outskirts because nobody wants them in.

When the center reaches out to an uncared periphery, it signals a new awakening.  The act is significant in that it executes on a vision.  When it does, it transcends our parochial understanding of religion.  Any religion.

In the words of St. Francis of Assissi, whose actions Pope Francis wants to assimilate:

Preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words 

Fr. McShane on Pope Francis Fr. McShane on Pope Benedict XVI
What is Liberation Theology?
NPR – an introduction NPR – what do we want out of Pope Francis
This is Part II of the Vatican Trilogy
vatican2 libtheo
Will Vatican II ever be Vatican 2.0? – Part I Liberation Theology – Part III


  1. Will Vatican II ever be Vatican 2.0?
  2. Amanpour: Is the new pope powerful enough to change the Church?
  3. Al Jazeera – Pope Francis: A symbol of change?
  4. Al Jazeera – Buenos Aires hails ‘pope of the poor’
  5. Pope [Benedict XVI] warns liberation theologian
  6. The New York Times – A Vatican Spring? – By Hans Kung
  7. My Prayer: Let Women Be Priests – Roy Bourgeois
  8. NPR – Pope Francis Puts The Poor Front And Center
  9. AC360 – Pope Francis reveals some startling new directions September 20, 2013
  10. Andrew Sullivan: The Rebirth Of Catholicism
  11. Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the new direction. Sept 20, 2013
  1. I liked that in his speech to people collected in the St Peters square, he talked of brotherhood for all the world, he didn’t differentiate between people, believers and non believers! 🙂

    • thanks Sunil for the translation. i watched it on Radio Vaticana and his speech was in Italian that i did not understand. As you are from Bologna, you probably understood and enjoyed everything that was being said.

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