The Papacy: Francis the new broom
The lines from St. Matthew endure: ‘and the gates of hell shall not overcome it, and I will give you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven’
‘Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam’. You are Peter and on this rock I shall build my church. The words, from the Gospel of St. Matthew, are inscribed around the ceiling of St. Peter’s and form the basis of countless pieces of religious music, but it is perhaps only now that people are beginning to ponder their meaning.
The words suggest that the Pope, the heir to St. Peter, is charged by Christ with the building and maintaining of the Church. But in what sense should he be leading and in what sense supporting?
The new pope, Francis, seems to be leading. Where John Paul II did away with the crown, Francis won’t even sit on the throne. He didn’t wear the fur stole with his vestments. He didn’t want to travel in the Popemobile Mercedes. He has felt unable to move into the papal apartments and has converted a part of them to a communal dining area.
On Maundy Thursday, he went to wash the feet of some young offenders in prison, rather than those of the usual priests. He seems to be a new broom, but is he criticising the previous regime -- Benedict seemed to like the ceremony and certainly liked nice clothes -- or just doing his own thing?
There has been much discussion in Rome’s newspaper, il Messaggero, for and against this change. The following is not untypical: ‘He seems to shy away from the seat, so as not to confront what is expected of him....If he didn’t want the job he should have said so at the start. Now that seat is his and he should sit in it. Wake up, Francis! The office is yours and it is time to occupy it.’ (My loose translation).
People accept the trappings of office in the same way they accept that a cathedral is grand, rather than just a tin hut. Can’t Francis be humble and go in the Mercedes?
I think Francis will, and should, ignore these voices. Firstly he must present an image he is comfortable with and we know from his previous tenure in Buenos Aires that this is it. Secondly, more than any other pope in recent times, he must look like a new broom, because the old one wasn’t sweeping in the corners.
Shock tactics are required to show the faithful that the era of child molestation, homosexual prostitution and blackmail are definitively over, and if that makes John Paul II look casual and Benedict look effete so be it.
Lastly, it is Holy Week. Now is the time for the Church to look inward, to compare itself to its founder, and reflect on how it is failing. It is time to deliver to the faithful the message of Easter, the bedrock of faith.
Pasquetta, Easter Monday, the work must begin, and the world will be expecting changes: openness, honesty, humility and some sacrifices.
The lines from St. Matthew endure: ‘and the gates of hell shall not overcome it, and I will give you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven’.
Those keys are not won without patience.
Tim Hedges previously worked in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist
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