Papal Training

Catholics the world over have a new leader, Pope Francis I.  The new pontiff is 76 years old, formerly a Cardinal in Argentina, and the first Latin American and first Jesuit to be selected to serve as Pope.

I’m not a Catholic, but I wonder:  When the hand of destiny falls on a new Pope, how does he get ready for the job?  Is there any kind of papal training that occurs?  How does someone prepare to lead a church that traces its history back for nearly 2000 years and has 1.2 billion members?

So far, Francis seems to be off to a good start.  He chose his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who is famed for his friendship to the poor and downtrodden, and Francis I seems ready to follow in some of St. Francis of Assisi’s footsteps.  He has reportedly shunned some of the elaborate trappings of his office, including ermine-lined robes, and has advised his fellow Argentinian members of the Church to save the money they might pay to travel to Rome for his installation and give it to the poor instead.  He traveled around Buenos Aires by subway, and already has slipped away from the Vatican and driven around Rome in an unmarked car to pray at the church where the founder of the Jesuit order once prayed and to visit a sick friend in a hospital.

When new figures come on the world scene, we often focus on their prior personal lives to try to glean information about how they might handle their new, more prominent role.  It’s hard to know whether the signs of humility that Francis I has displayed previously mean anything significant, and clearly they don’t say much about his views, ultimately, on the big issues that face the Catholic Church, like how it handled — or more accurately, mishandled — the priest sexual abuse scandal. On that issue and many others, we’ll have to see how Francis I responds now that he can direct Church policy.

Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt for the Catholic Church to be led by someone who tries to focus the Church anew on some of Jesus’ core teachings — like trying to help the poor and the downtrodden.

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