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In just six months Pope Francis has shaken up the world

The Holy Father has prompted millions to re-examine their prejudices about the Church

By on Friday, 13 September 2013

Pope Francis (AP)

Pope Francis (AP)

On the flight back from Rio, Pope Francis offered a modest assessment of his papacy so far. “It’s true,” he said, “that I haven’t done very much.” In a sense, he’s right: many of the problems identified by the cardinals before his election six months ago today remain. He has yet to overhaul the Vatican bank, shake up the Roman Curia, impose strong global norms on the handling of abuse allegations, speed up episcopal appointments or strengthen the Synod of Bishops.

The Group of Eight cardinals that he appointed to advise him in April hasn’t even met yet. But if we were to judge his papacy so far solely on institutional reforms we would be missing the wider picture. In just six months Pope Francis has recorded a remarkable achievement: he has forced people all over the world to re-examine their prejudices about the Catholic Church.

He challenged jaded perceptions of Catholicism with the very first words of his papacy: that informal, courteous and personal greeting, “Buona sera!” He quickly followed this address with a series of gestures that emphasised his normality: taking the bus back from the conclave with his fellow cardinals, paying his hotel bill and ringing his newspaper vendor in Buenos Aires to cancel his order.

His message was startling, but not at all solemn: the Holy Father, like everyone else, has to live out his Christian calling in everyday life. In this he is following the spiritual guidance of Thérèse of Lisieux, one of his favourite saints, who once said: “Do ordinary things in an extraordinary way.”

It is hard to quantify the impact of Pope Francis’s first six months, because they haven’t been defined by a series of high-powered executive decisions, but rather by a way of being.

John Paul II’s Herculean missionary journeys and Benedict XVI’s heroic defence of the very foundations of Catholic belief have prepared the way for a Pope of everyday life, who sets us the daily challenge of rising above our own mediocrity and being true Christians where we live and to those we meet.

  • Justathought

    “It is hard to quantify the impact of Pope Francis’s first six months, because they haven’t been defined by a series of high-powered executive decisions”

    When the man who was given the job of CEO decides he would rather be the doorman because it lets him smile at people, chat about their views of life and offer them some snippets of homely wisdom, he cannot be surprised when he finds himself out of a job because the business has collapsed with the resultant ruination of the lives of all its employees.

  • Kevin

    “Do ordinary things in an extraordinary way.”

    This article is ludicrous.

    What was extraordinary about the way he said “Buona sera”?

    What was extraordinary about the way he rode the bus?

    What was extraordinary about the way he paid his hotel bill?

    What was extraordinary about the way he rang his newspaper vendor?

    All of these things were done in a purely ordinary way.

    What is extraordinary is that you have attempted to defend this papacy without reference to any action that is definitively papal.

  • Benedict Carter

    All he’s done is mystified everyone with his impenetrable wafflings. This article is nonsensical.

  • Solent Rambler


    What do you mean by “definitively papal”?

  • Laurence

    Fine. However, it is worth noting that the Pope is not a CEO and the Church is not a business. This is the same mistake made by those who seek to change malicously the very teachings of the Church. The Church does not make corporate decisions; instead, it is a deterministic system through the Deposit of Faith and the Guidance of the Creator Himself, surely.

  • Guest

    The commenter was clearly using an analogy prompted by the language of the article itself.

  • Gerard Paul

    Pope Francis called for prayer and fasting last Saturday for Syria. Was that ‘impenetrable wafflings’? 48 hours later Russia came up with an initiative that put American airstrikes on hold. This humble man is a breath of fresh air, and should be given a chance and support rather than criticism from Catholics.

  • Laurence

    I believe it was a bit more than a pure analogy (allegory perhaps).

  • lawrence

    They say,”let those with ear, hear, and those with eyes, see” Therefore, for those who can not even hear what others say about the Pope what he has done, then it means there is a problem. Those liberals think that the church would be managed according to their wish, they are deceiving themselves. Let`s keep praying for our Mother church and our Holy Father.

  • jock

    People should stop harping on his every word…stop covering his sermons at St. Martha’s house and just let him get on with the job. The V8 group of cardinals that was supposed to meet in August have not done so. Maybe he will call on them individually if he needs their advice about particular regions which they represent.

    He should visit Asia – India, Korea, Japan, China. Yes even China in a pastoral manner only. To show his care for ALL the Christians there irrespective if they have 2 Catholic churches. He comes as a pastor not as the HEAD OF THE VATICAN. Confirm people in their faith round the world. no need to wait until relations are warm and rosy. Pope John Paul 2 did not wait for Communism to be demolished in Poland before he visited his homeland. Similarly he should visit Argentina. They would miss him at home and he would miss them too by now! I am sure he never expected to be Pope and always thought he would be going home after the conclave! God truly works in mysterious ways.

    Appointment of Peter Parolin a MASTER STROKE. Good start. But I also miss the solidness graciousness and gentleness of Pope Bendict XVI. When I watched his interview as Cardinal Interview on with Raymond Arroyo first broadcast in 2003 and rebroadcast in 2013 on the day he resigned I almost cried.

  • la Catholic state

    To me this Pope is a no-nonsense action Pope. I hope to see more of this. He is an energetic leader…..and I hope he uses this to bring the Church onto the world stage, not as a passive observer….but as a shaper of events.

    It’s time the Church left the doldrums.

  • RCYouthWorker

    He means that he’s not poncing around in a Papal tiara :)

  • RCYouthWorker

    Some brilliant thoughts. Thank You :)

    As usual with the Herald website, a brilliant article with some seriously nutty comments underneath.

  • RCYouthWorker

    ‘Impenetrable wafflings?’

    If only the college of Cardinals had consulted you instead of the Holy Spirit!!

  • anon

    I may not now survive as a Catholic should the daily video homilies of St Martha’s Hostel cease!

  • RCYouthWorker

    Well said. And Pope Francis is just the man to lead that :)

  • Vincent

    The Papacy is a survivor of an office from a time when all leadership/ monarchical offices were held personally, i.e. where the holder’s personality could have a large or even unlimited influence over how he excercised the office. So, for example, Ratzinger, ever the scholar, exercised his office largely in a cerebral, scholarly way, in contrast to, say, Roncalli (John XXIII), who brought a more heartfelt style. Bergoglio has intuited that there is tremendous need in this time of low confidence in the administrative structure of the Church for a visible model of humility, transparency, and dare I say, lived sanctity. I am hopeful.
    At the same time, I bet a lot of the old guard Cardinals are now very GLAD of the oath a pope-elect still takes, as far as I know, not to abdicate or foreswear any of the powers that go with the Petrine Office!

  • asda

    I am not a Christian but I have a feeling that the Catholic Church is gaining some momentem since this Pope took over. Church always has been a subject of prejudice and many negative attributes !

  • licjjs

    Is this going to go on ad infinitum?

  • RCYouthWorker

    We can only hope and pray that it does :)

    Ad multos annos!

  • Banmeagain

    Benedict, out of respect for you and your many excellent posts over the years i typed a response to your above comments asking you to consider praying for the Pope rather than taking public pot-shots. Unfortunately the moderator has once again deleted out of existence another of my well intentioned comments (perhaps they seek to give you enough rope to hang yourself?). But given the damage i feel you are doing with your new negative approach i thought i would try one last time to encourage you to take the higher path.

  • la Catholic state

    Benedict…..have faith in the Pope. He is not going to let you down….even if the media hint that he is.

  • Benedict Carter
  • la Catholic state
  • Benedict Carter

    The Indepdendent?!? I think not.

  • Benedict Carter

    See post above

  • Banmeagain

    I am looking above and below and see no relevant response….

  • RCYouthWorker

    The way I see it there are two viable options. Either Pope Francis is the Pope chosen by the Holy Spirit, or he isn’t. There’s no middle ground on that one. If you take the latter position, then either you believe that the papacy is a farce, which makes you a Protestant, or you believe that Pope Francis is not a valid Pope, which makes you a sedevacantist.

    I would respectfully challenge those who are giving the Holy Father a kicking at the moment to get off the fence and do one of three things: Either declare yourself a Protestant, declare yourself a sedevacantist, or accept the fact that the Holy Spirit chose this Pope and that the Holy Spirit is working through him. If you chose the latter, you can then start to look at what he says and does with the trusting mindset asking ‘Where is our leader taking us?’

    That, of course, doesn’t mean we can’t ask why certain things are happening and it doesn’t mean that (dogma aside, of course) we can’t disagree when our consciences move us to, but it does mean at least that our default position should be one of trusting in the Holy Spirit.

    The I’m-staying-in-the-church-but-I’m-still-reserving-the-right-to-think-I-know-better-than-the-Pope approach is something that conservative Catholics don’t tolerate from the left, and something we shouldn’t tolerate from our own either. As I often say, liberal dissent is liberal dissent no matter how you dress it up!

  • MultitaskingLitigator

    Absolutely bang on. So could the posters who have replied below, WITHOUT, I note,addressing this point now say whether they are Protestants or Sedevacantists and if they won’t jump either way how they reconcile their dissent?

  • Benedict Carter


    Pointing out that he waffles on in an incomprehensible manner doesn’t make one a sedevacantist, it makes one a teller of truth. The Pope is not God.

    “Either Pope Francis is the Pope chosen by the Holy Spirit, or he isn’t” says a poster above.

    No, he isn’t. The Holy Ghost does not choose a Pope, the Cardinals do. And have got it horribly wrong often enough. That the Holy Ghost DOES choose the Pope is one of the worst Catholic myths.

  • guestguy

    He said “Buona sera” with real enthusiasm and meant it, that’s extraordinary.
    He, even though he had a high office in the church at the time he rode the bus, was always humble and never showed it off, never was it “ooh look at me!”. That’s extraordinary.
    Etc etc.

  • MultitaskingLitigator

    So is it OK to dissent from the teachings of the Holy Father or even just be rude and disrespectful about him in a public forum if you think the Cardinals (whether or not guided by the Holy Spirit) have got it “horribly wrong”. By what authority do you decide that they’ve got it wrong? How do you know?

  • Stephen

    Superficial hogwash. This is a very cosmetic and vapid piece–treats the Pope like a supermodel or a hollywood celebrity, even a corporate brand. It looks like sycophants in the Church are trying to create a cult of personality around Pope Francis like liberals do with politicians like FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton, and Obama. “Brand Francis gives the Church a makeover” – what a sad turn of events. How about a return to authentic investigative journalism with a focus on substance, intellectual rigor, and critical thought/analysis?

  • RCYouthWorker

    So, it’s a merely human decision without the Holy Spirit involved at all..?

    Okay, I know you’re not saying that exactly, but the point is that the Holy Spirit definitely guides and protects Popes, and the college of Cardinals spend days and days doing nothing but discerning the will of the Spirit.

    So we can wrangle about wording all we like… the fact is that the Pope is an office instituted by Christ and Christ promised to send his spirit to remain with his Church. Therefore the Pope – though he may get it wrong from time to time when not speaking infallibly – is still the Pope.

    I’m not saying we have to blindly follow everything he says. We have consciences for a reason. What I am saying though is that our first port-of-call needs to be to trust that the Holy Spirit is working through his decisions and actions. We should only then move away from that for very serious and grave reasons.

  • RCYouthWorker

    Also… when liberal Catholics say that the Pope is wrong about contraception (not a position I hold btw) and that they know better, how is that different??

  • Jeffocks

    My gut instincts are that there are good things happening in and around the Church since Pope Francis’s arrival. Though personally I am still getting further immersed in Pope Benedict XVI’s writings which absorb and amaze me with their depth and clarity. I believe Pope Francis will prove to be media-proof ultimately – it is important that he is.

  • Bob Faser

    I’m not a Catholic myself, but a member of another denomination. A theologian of the early 20th century once suggested this criterion to judge the utterances and actions of any leader of any Christian community: “Do you see Christ the Good Shepherd reflected in this person’s words and deeds?” The developing consensus around Pope Francis re this question among Catholics, among other Christians, among people of other faiths, and among other people of good will has become a resounding “Yes”

  • MultitaskingLitigator

    Red herring. Do you think the Cardinals/Holy Spirit have got it right or wrong re Pope Francis? Please be explicit.

  • Agnus

    Christ said things like this!

    “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)”

    …..Also He said THIS to the Pharisees who mocked Him and didn’t believe He was the only begotten Son of God……….

    “21 …..: I go, and you shall seek me, and you shall die in your sin. Whither I go, you cannot come. The Jews therefore said: Will he kill himself, because he said: Whither I go, you cannot come? And he said to them: You are from beneath, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world.
    Therefore I said to you, that you shall die in your sins. For if you believe not that I AM HE, you shall die in your sin.

    NB *I am He – Or YHWH aka JHVH” is the Hebrew name for God. It’s the name Moses was given by God from the centre of the Burning Bush when Moses asked who Moses was to say had sent Him.

    …..continuing John 8 25

    25 They said therefore to him: Who art thou? Jesus said to them: THE BEGINNING, who also speak unto you. (John 8)

    NB The Beginning, The End, The First, The Last, The Alpha and Omega. are all names of God as also spoken of as names of Jesus (Divinity, everlasting, Eternal without begining or end) in Apocalypse

    And he (Jesus) said to me: “It is done. I am Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. “(Apocolypse 21:6)

    For an interesting relatively UNKNOWN use of “I am HE I am the First and the Last…..” see Isaiah 48 . It starts in verse 11 It is the Pre-incarnate Christ speaking prior to the incarnation to Isaiah. He says He is the “Creator” of all (as mentioned in John 1) Also In Isaiah 48 the Preincarnate Son of God also makes it clear that God is a Trinity by stating in verse 16

    “I was there, and now the Lord God hath sent me, and his spirit.”

    This He says after He has just said He had Created the World. God is definitely Triune. As is also clear when you examine the Hebrew of “Hear O Israel, The Lord, The Lord our God(s), The Lord is one. Deut 6

    The word God is shown in Plural form in Hebrew.

  • acero aspiro

    And so the six months have passed.. the famous 100 days of incredible expectations. Perhaps we should look at this papacy from a civil servant perspective all is changed so that all stays the same. Redefinitions and such like jargon. Actions which truly reflect changes are still in the distant future, lost in Roman corridors of hoping that problems will sort out themselves or be utterly forgotten, replaced by other issues. Actions mentioned in this article are not “extraordinary” at all. Real actions would be: dealing seriously with the sexual scandals within the church by handing over the clerical offenders to the secular arm of justice. Deal with the financial disasters… perhaps by living in agreement with the vow of poverty and using the riches for revitalizing world economy, particularly in poor countries. Ordinary actions done in an extraordinary way are just what paparazzi need to fill their tabloids. Actions which lead to real good and positive changes are what we need. When he was appointed the crowds acclaimed “Francis clean My house” – when you have a house full of rubbish, you do not use the duster, you get the shovel.