A few words on the new pope.
Since ascending to the papacy in March, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio has managed to surprise and impress the religious and irreligious alike by living a brand of faith seldom seen on the public stage. Pope Francis insists on carrying his own bags, living in a simple apartment and cooking his own supper. He has largely shunned the papal Mercedes-Benz in favor of a five-year-old Ford Focus. One of the earliest acts of his papacy was to wash and kiss the feet of a dozen young prisoners, two of them girls, at least one of them a Muslim.
But the pontiff’s appeal has not been solely stylistic. It has also been a matter of substance. This is, after all, the pope who famously asked, “Who am I to judge?” gay people. And who criticized Catholics as narrowly “obsessed” with abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception. And who called his church to be “for the poor.” And who said God loves atheists, too.
Tellingly, the pope has not — yet — sought to change any bedrock teaching of Catholicism. Still, his vision of a more compassionate and inclusive church has won him rave reviews from across the cultural spectrum. Thomas Groome, a theology professor at Boston University, called him “a breath of fresh air.” Columnist Michael Gerson described him approvingly as a “disruptive force.” Jon Stewart of The Daily Show said, “I love this guy!” Chris Rock tweeted that “the new pope might be the greatest man alive.”
It is a shower of unaccustomed approbation that should leave Christians, well … a little embarrassed.
They — we — should ask what it tells us that a pope models humility, inclusion, unpretentiousness, concern for the poor and nonjudgmental, small “c” catholic love — and people are surprised. Indeed, it generates headlines around the world.