Don’t you just love it when the Holy Spirit pulls the rug from under all our feet? I have to admit that when I heard the name of the man who had been elected Pope after little more than 24 hours of conclave, I was taken aback. But then I heard the name he had chosen as Pope, and I realised all was well: Francis. One of the beauties of faith is that it gives us a language which cuts to the chase. No one who knows anything about St Francis can fail to note that the beginning of his mission was rooted in those words Christ said to him from the Cross at San Damiano: “Francis, rebuild my Church!”
And so we got someone who from a seemingly hidden place in the conclave balances a host of attributes. He is a man for the poor, zealous for social justice in a continent where this is a crucial issue. He is a man for the weak and defenceless, defending the lives of the unborn, and the right of children to be brought up with the “human maturity that God willed them to have, with a father and a mother”. He is a man who leads by example, giving up a sumptuous palace and a chauffeur-driven car and washing the feet of Aids victims and drug addicts. He has encouraged an ecclesial movement – Communion and Liberation – which has brought countless young people back to the Church but has remained independent, a Jesuit whose life of prayer is founded on Jesuit spirituality. He comes from Latin America, but he has Italian parentage, which gives him the ability to speak directly to his brothers in Christ in his new home – having once refused a Curial position, saying that it would kill him (that is, according to the Vatican commentator, Sandro Magister).
Is he strong enough to do what is necessary? At first glance one may have misgivings. What do you do with a media-shy Pope? Could anything be more counter-cultural in our babbling age? But then we have to remember the words of St Paul: “When I am weak, He is strong.” The Pope who, before giving us his apostolic blessing, first bowed his head and asked for our prayers, causing the whole of St Peter’s Square to fall completely silent, put the ball very much in our court.