THE BIG READ: A revolutionary pope? - Times LIVE
Wed Apr 26 19:33:30 SAST 2017

THE BIG READ: A revolutionary pope?

Chris Townsend | 2013-03-15 00:54:51.0
Pope Francis washes the feet of an unidentified woman in Buenos Aires, in 2005. Though the Catholic Church has had a storm of well-publicised troubles, the new pope's reputation as an unaffected, humble man is expected to turn the negative tide

When Pope Francis emerged on the balcony of St Peter's on Wednesday, a number of thoughts crossed my mind.

Firstly, why did he choose the name Francis? Roman Catholics like tradition. So when the name "Francis" was announced, I was surprised - not Leo, Benedict or even John Paul III?

Next I thought that he resembles past popes : Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul I .

Again, why Francis? What is the symbolism in this name? For Catholics and others, St Francis of Assisi is this cute and cuddly bunny-hugger saint. Is the pope cute and cuddly? I don't think so.

But we must not forget that St Francis was a social revolutionary in his day. He took the corrupted, staid and out-of-touch church back to its simple origins: love, prayer and service. His short life was marked by a remarkable ability to inspire charity, and he was not intimidated by either the secular or the religious authorities of his day.

Also, there is St Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits - the congregation of priests the pope was a member of until Wednesday - who showed remarkable zeal in taking the gospel to India and the Far East. He is cited by the church as an example of missionary service.

Both these Francis's would be well-known to Pope Francis, as would the thought of the discussion for the church around "Why Francis?".

The Franciscan and Jesuit tradition would be very strong in the history and memory of the South American faith in which this Italian immigrant to the new world would be steeped.

From all accounts I have read, he's a simple, humble man - he cooks for himself, does his own washing and takes the bus. He lives a life of service stripped of the trappings of power that have so desperately compromised the church in Argentina, especially during the period of rule of its military dictatorship.

But don't expect him to suddenly pull down the Vatican's brocade curtaining. The ministry is bigger than the man who is the minister. Do expect a man, however, who doesn't seem concerned about the trappings and ceremonies.

I've seen a picture of Pope Francis washing the feet of HIV/Aids sufferers. That might not seem significant, but his actions signal a man who is aware of the reality of the dreaded syndrome that has shattered so many families and communities in South Africa.

Pope Francis has to deal with problems in the church. But he's its faithful shepherd.

Will the condom issue resurface? Probably. Will he respond? Maybe. But most importantly, we are all called to care and responsibility and it is his respect of and for people that thrilled me most on Wednesday night.

He was very nervous. But he responded to the crowd and claimed that Loggia as his own when he asked people to pray for him, then bowed down as we all prayed.

As a bishop and cardinal, he opposed abortion, same-sex marriage and many other issues for which the church has been criticised. He is, after all, a bishop of the church. But he has also spoken strongly and clearly that the church must focus on the person, in love.

Pope Francis, restore my church indeed.

  • Townsend is the parish priest at Christ the King Catholic Church, Queenswood, Pretoria


If you have an opinion you would like to share on this article, please send us an e-mail to the Times LIVE iLIVE team. In the mean time, click here to view the Times LIVE iLIVE section.