What do you think about the Pope?

Franziskus IWell, now another good friend asked me to translate this into English. Here’s an emended version of my mornings posting. After readings some of my posts about the latest Pope my dear friend Stefan had asked: What do you think about this. Well, here are some of my thoughts: “Last week the roman Church (He referred to it as the “roman diocese”) elected a new bishop of Rome and pope of this worldwide Church: Francis. Fascinating – even the selection of the name – especially if you recall that that little friar, was called by God to renew the Church many years ago. Only after quite some regulating and harnessing, was this grass-root-movement under the leadership of a charismatic, devout and enthusiastically concerned with the ill, outcast and poor – this fraternity of beggars (little brothers complimented by the sisterhood down the hill off course) – accredited by the almighty control centre in Rome. And that’s the name-patron of the new pope, who has made it clear, that he too is standing up for the lowest echelons of the Church: “They have called somebody from far off. Now I am here!“ It sure is promising to be exiting!

It’s fascinating, how quickly the era of Benedict XVI is fading and that of another is upon us. Please don’t get me wrong, Rome is not going to be Wittenberg or Geneva – not by a long shot. No, this church is moving south – far south. Mary is again right in the forefront – the co-redeemer – just as in the days of John Paul II. As for quite some time now, she – together with the long list of roman saints from across the world is worshipped in prayer, but also called upon to help, redeem and heal, to have mercy upon those below and to grant this and that. That goes at the cost of her beloved and only begotten Son Jesus Christ, who alone has the prerogative of being the saviour of the world, our only redeemer and liberator. He is the lamb of God, that carries the sins of the world alone and without outside help – even if those merciful women gave him some refreshing water on the way and Simeon did relieve him of the wooden beams – at least for a wee bit. Yet he is and remains the only mediator between God and men. He did enough for us and our salvation. He fulfilled, accomplished and finished the work of salvation, redemption and propitiation – once and for all. No further sacrifice (Not even a single mass is still required. Not by a priest, not by a bishop, not by a pope – and off course no special indulgences required either – not even such as were again proclaimed from St. Peters on Wednesday), for he – the Son of God, Jesus Christ – did it all. Praise be to him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and forever! Amen!


No doubt the Argentinean son of a railway employee is going to be more popular that that son of a Bavarian policeman. The first just loves to be amongst people, whereas the other could never quite get rid of his natural inclination towards lofty heights and isolated studies (I didn’t say: Ivory tower!), although he did a mighty good job at getting over it or at least to hide it.  Somebody, who prefers public transport to the bishop’s limousine, who does his own meals in basic accommodation, who personally visits hospitalized victims in his diocese and who greets the crowds of St. Peter with a warm smile and friendly wave wishing a good day (“Buana sera!”) and then without preaching too long, just asking them to pray for him before doing the ritual expected of him and then bids them farewell with the very humane: “Have a good rest!” is obviously going to catch on amongst the people, be popular and celebrated – especially on his continent, but world wide too, because friendliness, down-to-earth kindness and humility strike a cord globally. No question that Benedict XVI was down-to-earth too, very humble to self-effacing, very cordial, smiling easily and so delightfully soft spoken, yet he remained the delicate academic Professor from Germany, who prefers to play piano during lunch break and writes profound books on liturgy, exegesis and eschatology in solitude. Both followed the call of their church to go, where they would not have gone otherwise. They both had to be pushed and prompted to serve in this capacity as first amongst the roman cardinals. Both were obedient to a fault (Just look at their respective histories in totalitarian regimes!). Both know what responsibility towards their church and superiors mean. Both had the highest recommendations from their superiors. Both became cardinals in the time of John Paul II, who had an eye for suitable candidates to get Rome back on track after the tumultuous sixties and seventies. Just think of liberation theology in South America – and the rest of the world, but especially south of the equator.

As a Jesuit – Jorge Mario Bergoglio – was not supposed to become a bishop. That’s one of those things Jesuits don’t do, except with exemption and special dispensation by their superiors. Bergoglio was called by John Paul II to be archbishop and than cardinal. So not really doing his own thing, but because he answered the call obediently then and now, when he was elected after only five sessions by the conclave to be the successor of St. Peter on the apostolic throne in Rome.

I don’t think Francis will change Rome – at least not in the sense of a Lutheran reformation of Calvinistic revolution. The chances for that would have been by far better under Joseph Ratzinger – and even he did not even manage to clean up the administrative mess in the Vatican, never mind reform the theological quagmire that makes up the roman system.  I don’t think Francis will come up with any surprises in this regard. All those many wishes, suggestions and even prescriptions and recommendations, which were addressed towards the pope elect seemed rather wishful thinking, if not downright utopian. No, this pope will probably make Rome appear more popular, more pious in the basic ritualistic and iconic sense – just as it has been in South America for decades already. More Spanish than German, more Southern off course and more in favour of the visual and emotional – more lively soccer and sensual tango, than university lecture and piano sonatas.  Perhaps even less theology at least in the theoretical sense – and more emphasis on the practice of the faith: Prayer, worship and piety.  Again – don’t get me wrong – Francis is not going to change the theology of Rome. That’s a given! All the 100+ cardinals in the Sistine Chapel were and are united in this prerequisite, which carries the throne of Peter’s successor in Rome – and in this they are strongly supported by the episcopal brotherhood across the globe. We’re not to overestimate the extraordinary voices like that outcast Küng. He’s not at the helm in Rome. He’s just a lonely voice in the desert – even if he strikes a note with other renegades outside the Roman circles. These wizened greybeards (White!) called cardinals are in this position, because they are not renegades or dropouts. They kept the faith! That’s their strongest point. They are not known for innovation or fundamental change, nor should we expect it of them either. They are there to conserve theology and church as it was handed down to them. The Argentinian with Italian roots will not be bothered with the secular press, who fantasise about the rock of Peter becoming part of the fluidum in which they have their libertarian existence. Don’t they know, that the Church is in the world, but not of it? Don’t they know, what a bishop, cardinal and pope especially is there for? It’s not to change the foundations of the Church, shake up its walls and bring down the scaffolding that prop it up. I recon that Francis will probably do more to shake up the rotten administration of the Vatican. Hopefully he can do more to clean up the stinking reputation of the roman clergy. No doubt he will – and has already – given more ear to the needs and sorrows of the poor in the world and to shake up the rich and wealthy to do more in alleviating poverty and misery worldwide. This is not going to be boring one bit, even if its not going to be a reformation in the true theological sense. I was hoping that rather naively with Ratzinger, but not I think the roman Church is going to celebrate its moving South – a lively, colourful and popular church at home in the favelas of Brazil, the townships of South Africa and the megacities of India and China. Good for those northerners, who have been looking for some more enthusiasm and movement. They are not going to be disappointed. There will be more dance and music, more pomp and ritual, prayers, processions, liturgy and the entire repertoire at Rome’s disposal – probably more than theological abstracts, clever compositions with pro and contra  – and a lot less critique of the powers of the pope and the redemptive qualities of the most holy mother Mary. Its going to be more straightforward, perhaps even more provocative and controversial (Beijing better be careful! Their warning is not going to be heeded by this clever Jesuit missionary!), more conservative in the Roman or even Spanish sense (Cave: Inquisition!) and as I don’t tire of emphasizing more popular amongst common folk.

That’s why we will have to pray even more consistently for the one holy Christian Church and not to this or that, but only to the one head of the Church – our Lord and God – Jesus Christ: Lord have mercy + To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church; to preserve all pastors and ministers, bishops and teachers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living; to put an end to all schisms and causes of offense; to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived; To beat down Satan under our feet; to send faithful labourers into Your harvest; and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit: C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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