Holy Man

Pope Francis: He Could Be Really Great

If his humble first speech is any indication, Pope Francis is just the pontiff the Catholic Church needs.

Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty

The word for this hour, this pope, and this moment in religious history is most certainly this: humility.

Pope Francis, emerging through brilliant scarlet curtains, with the bejeweled crosiers (staffs) of bishops all around, did a few remarkable things. First, he took the name of Francis, the unordained street preacher from Assisi who would often join the poor as they begged outside the gates of St. Peter's basilica. This name carries a legacy of reconciliation (St. Francis was famous for his outreach to the Muslim world), and of self-sacrifice. It is not a gilded name, and does not rest on a gilded man.

Next, the new pope, perhaps awed by the moment, the crowd, and the responsibility before him, made a request of the crowd: join me in a period of silence, and in that silence, pray for me. It was as if he saying, I don't have all of the answers, but God does. And you, the people, have some of them, too.

And finally, through Cardinal Tauran, Pope Francis democratized his blessing of forgiveness, which Catholics call an "indulgence," a remission from sins that God has already forgiven. Not satisfied with extending this blessing to just the crowd gathered before him, Pope Francis's indulgence was offered to those watching on television, listening on the radio, and joining "through other means of communication." (Presumably that means Twitter, great for all the Catholics following along on their timelines.)

This humble announcement was foreshadowed by the way Francis has lived his life. This is a pope who defended the rights of infants born out of wedlock to receive a proper baptism, against those who would deny them this basic religious right. A man who, when his flock began raising money to join him in Rome to celebrate his selection as Cardinal, urged them to stay home in Argentina and distribute the money to the poor. His official residence in Buenos Aires has remained empty for years, because the former Cardinal Bergoglio chose to live in a simple apartment, with an elderly fellow bishop, instead.

We do not yet know what these facts portend for Pope Francis or for the Catholic Church, and certainly difficult moments and deep disagreements lie ahead. But we do know that a spirit of humility is critical in times like these, when the Catholic Church and indeed the entire world is faced with questions that no single person has the answer to.

The book of Romans, Chapter 8, verse 19, says that "all of creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed." And we do wait, with great expectation, for the work of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis.