The Catholic world has, of course, been abuzz with the news of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. This is really the first time I have paid much attention to the selection of a new Pope. In fact, probably the first time I have paid much attention to the Pope at all.
What kind of a Catholic am I? A poor one indeed, I am the first to admit.
When Pope Benedict was elected in 2005, I was hardly what you'd call a practicing Catholic. I was aware of the new Pope, as most people in the world would be, through news reports and the like. But it didn't seem to mean very much to me. I never actually renounced my Catholicism, but in those days I was not attending mass and did very little to participate in my faith. I was like an outsider, watching with mild curiosity, but not feeling any real connection to the the new Pope.
I hadn't had much of a connection to his predecessor either. I knew who Pope John Paul was, I recalled hearing his name at mass, and if asked, I could have told you who he was. But I knew little about him. I grew up with a Catholic mother who took us to Mass, but my stepdad was very much not Catholic, so our faith was more or less reserved for church. It wasn't a part of our home life in very many ways, something I'm sure my mother wished could be different. But she had to walk a fine line with her husband (who is a good guy, don't get me wrong - just a sometimes-practicing Mormon), and he wasn't comfortable with much of her Catholic "stuff."
As a result, I didn't have a strong connection to my church - not the whole of the Catholic Church. I understood it on a certain level, but it didn't seem to be all that relevant to me personally. So I didn't think much of it when a new Pope was elected in 2005. I was busy changing diapers and wading through the newness of being a mother.
This time, however, I watched the process through a new lens. After the news of Pope Benedict's resignation, I was touched to read some of my favorite Catholic bloggers talk about their "Papa Bene." He meant something to them; he touched their lives with his words and his leadership. People connected with him, and saw him as not just a distant religious and semi-political figure, but a part of their larger family. Papa. What a lovely thing! I'd never realized how some Catholics looked with such fondness on the earthly head of our Church. It touched my heart and I found myself wishing for that sort of experience. Who would be my Papa?
I watched the announcement of our new Pope live online. I had no preconceived notions, no idea of who it may or may not be. I honestly couldn't have told you the name of any of the Cardinals anyway. So the news that they had chosen this Jorge Bergoglio didn't shock or surprise me. I simply watched. The EWTN commentators sure seemed surprised, and I suppose the only thing that surprised me was his age. I wondered why they had chosen a man rather advanced in years, after the resignation of his predecessor largely due to his age.
Reading about him in the ensuing days, there is much to admire in our Pope Francis. People are talking endlessly about his humility; but in a person leading an organization as large and ancient as our Church, humility is quite the virtue. I like his simplicity, his prayerfulness and his steadfastness in the face of opposition and criticism in his home country. He'll need a lot of that in the coming years.
I am one tiny, small soul in an enormous sea of Catholics, so what I think or how I feel about him personally doesn't matter much to anyone but me. But I hope that I will grow to feel that sort of affection for him that I so admire in other Catholics. I hope I can refer to him lovingly as "Papa Francisco." I do feel a certain joy at being part of "all this," this time around - for being an active part of the Church, for being close enough to feel that this matters to me. I love our Church and I pray for our new Father. I pray he is everything God needs him to be for us, in these crazy days.
Welcome, Papa Francisco. Welcome as our leader and our example. But welcome also, into my tiny little speck of the world, into my heart and my family.