The pope is the leader of one Christian church, but it’s one with 1.2 billion members around the globe and 66 million in the United States.
And that, along with the fact the church is one of the world’s largest charities and health providers in the Third World, helps explain the extent of the news coverage as Roman Catholic cardinals selected the replacement for retiring Pope Benedict XVI.
The actions and words of popes, especially with today’s ease of travel and instant communication, often have far-reaching consequences that affect many outside the Catholic world. Even American presidents make it a point to get a photograph with the pope.
The cardinals this time went with someone said to be more spiritual than organizational and in doing so selected the first pope to be born in the Americas: Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina.
Bergoglio in turn became the first pope to take the name Francis, in honor of the saint known for his humility and empathy for the poor.
News stories about popes often involve outreach efforts, such as a visit to a mosque or the renouncement of historical injustices like the libel that Jews bore guilt for the crucifixion of Christ. And, indeed, both Jewish and Muslim leaders already have expressed hope for positive relations with the new spiritual leader.
But Francis has a big job ahead dealing with his own church’s problems, including sex scandals that have demoralized Catholics and the recent financial difficulties experienced by the Holy See, the governing body of the church at the Vatican.
Because of Catholicism’s focus on tradition, those expecting major cultural changes in the church during any pope’s tenure — especially regarding life and sexuality issues — are likely to be disappointed.
Still, if Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of his namesake, he can make the world a better place.
— Albuquerque Journal