The Corner

Our First American Pope

Vatican City — I can’t tell you how tremendous it was to stand in St. Peter’s Square and hear Pope Francis speak Spanish to the crowd, as Romans continued through the streets to hear their new Holy Father!

And it is hard to describe to you the emotions in the square as the white smoke rose. Screaming. Crying. Cheering. Praying. Love. People talked about how blessed they were as they waited. Ready to welcome their “papa” — before even knowing who he was.

Earlier this year I attended a conference on the Church in America, and one thing that became jarringly clear is that Americans need some unity and healing on the continent. Even in some parishes in the United States where there are English and Spanish speakers, the communities keep to themselves too often.

It’s part of the reason why I found both the cardinal of Quebec and Cardinal O’Malley appealing. But a North American wouldn’t be enough. A pope who opens in Spanish! Can you imagine how that might help facilitate conversations?

Further more, at that Ecclesia in America conference, Pope Benedict opened it stressing the crucial importance of encountering Christ in daily life. For without friendship with Christ, no evangelical program is worth a hill of beans – that being my translation, of course.

That he is a Jesuit, founded by the great missionary Ignatius Loyola, whose Spiritual Exercises are great tools of the Christian life. What a message this sends: The Christian life is one of eternal hope, it is also rigorous if truly lived.

And this all from the Allen profile, is key:

He’s a Latin American with Italian roots, who studied in Germany. As a Jesuit he’s a member of a truly international religious community, and his ties to Comunione e Liberazione make him part of another global network.

Those different strands he can tie together.

Communion and Liberation has helped people encounter Christ and engage the culture — two leading messages of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, which he stressed in his final days.

I’m not even near a TV right now but am hearing the whispers of “conservative.” Don’t buy that narrative. Yes, breaking news, he is Catholic. And Francis has a real possibility of being uniting by both exuding and teaching to different groups, through humility and love.

What continuity and what innovation.

He may not have been the pundits’ pick but he was not a long-shot pick, having been in the running last time around. And that he is both a Jesuit and close to a movement, where resides much of the lifeblood of the renewal of the Church, is powerful.

I enjoy a bit that I and most every prognosticator was wrong. Briefing lists didn’t include him. John Allen of course covered his ground. Being at the pre-conclave Mass, I had some confidence that these cardinals were prayerfully discerning, on a solemn occasion. Now, even more so.

I was moved by the crowd I was around in the Square. When asked for predictions, there were prayers to the Holy Spirit — prayers in gratitude, having some confidence the choice had been made with God.

The other night the first thing I did when I got to St. Peter’s, on Sunday, was go to Confession. My confessor handed me a St. Francis holy card, with a sketch of what looked to be a quiet, holy one.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace, that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong,  I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that where there is error, I may bring truth; that where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that where there is despair, I may bring hope; that where there are shadows, I may bring light; that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; to understand, than to be understood; to love, than to be loved. 

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

I think that could easily be an ecumenical prayer that Pope Francis and those he shepherds pray and live this prayer of healing to the world.


A friend described Francis’s voice over the Square, to the world, tonight as a “soft whisper of love.” How the world could use such a soothing sound from someone whose witness offers us a challenge. 


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