The Strange New World of Pope Francis I

Here’s how I found out about the new pope. I was working at my computer yesterday afternoon and I thought I would check The New York Times to see if there was any news [not really expecting anything].  Immediately I saw what the world had seen:  white smoke, but no announcement yet.  So, I went onto Facebook, and joined the chatter, while keeping one eye on the Times live feed from the Vatican.  Where did I get the word first?  Facebook, of course; and while I was on the Wikipedia page for Cardinal Bergoglio, the title of the page switched to Pope Francis I.  Talk about events unfolding in real time!  This was all before the man himself had even showed his face on the balcony of St. Peter’s.  By the time he had stepped out—looking a little dazed and overwhelmed—multiple friends had posted about his theological views:  good things about his support for the poor, bad things about his anti-gay/lesbian rhetoric, things in Spanish I couldn’t read.  Poor guy:  I hoped he hadn’t made the mistake of sharing an off-hand snarky comment to a reporter on a bad day.  If he did, surely it will be out there soon enough, for all the world to see.  If we have learned anything from “Vatileaks,” it’s that the Pope is just like any other public figure, and doesn’t have a private life anymore. 

It was quite a contrast, wasn’t it:  the centuries-old traditions that surround the election of new pope, meant to inspire awe and mystery, seem somewhat lost on the faithful, who, sadly, are somewhat awe-immune, living as we do in a vastly wired world, where anything is available for view or perusal from anywhere in the world, at any time of day.  I mean, was there anyone—either standing in Rome or watching live—who was actually surprised when they saw the face of Pope Francis?  [Weren’t those Argentine flags in the square flying before he actually came into view?]  I’m not sure whether this is a loss or not, but I am sure that this is not the world it was 20 years ago—or even 8 years ago, when Pope Benedict was elected.  I hope Pope Francis is up to the task of making a Church so steeped in tradition that it sometimes looks like it’s drowning relevant again.  It’s not going to be easy:  there are lots of fences to mend and bridges to build.  But he’s a Jesuit, and he took the name “Francis”—both good omens, as far as I’m concerned.  I’m praying for him—and pulling for him, too.

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