South America, Argentina, Hispanics and a soccer team, have claimed him as their own. Maybe, one suggested, God is an Argentine? Perhaps we can make the case that Pope Francis is really from Hawaii. Wasn’t that the spirit of aloha we saw in his first appearances? In that diffident first wave to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square: in his request for a blessing from them before he would offer them his; in his aversion to pomp; his insistence on riding The Bus. And who can miss seeing the kinship to the Hawaiian culture of welcome and reverence for nature in his choice of the name shunned by previous popes, the name of that wild, moneyed merchant’s son turned champion of the poor and the abandoned, animals and the environment, worshipper of brother sun and sister moon?
It was hard to be optimistic in the run-up to the Papal election. The candidates were old and dyed in Pope Benedict’s woolly thinking. They shared his teaching on women and homosexuals. Obedience trumped conscience. They have been scandalously negligent about responding to crimes within their pastoral and administrative ranks. And unembarrassed about inflicting visitations on congregations of women religious, publicly rebuking progressive theologians who have looked at the Gospel through the lens of our times.
Straddling the Usual Divide Yet here we are. Habemus Papam. We have a Pope – and he has stirred some excitement. Some of that is relief that there wasn’t a sharper turn to the right. Pope Francis does not fit easily into a right or left view of the world. That straddling of the customary divide challenges us –and him. Plenty is being written about what he allegedly did or failed to do in Argentina’s so-called “Dirty War.” We learn all this the same week we talk about Hubris, the story of how an American President mis-led his country into a war that cost thousands of lives, including those of innocent Iraqi civilians. Church leaders did not prevail in preventing that war. Nor have they condemned its architects with the same zeal with which they have chastised champions of same sex marriage or women’s reproductive rights. But they continue to hold positions of power.
Catholics want Pope Francis to do better than them—and better than Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. To speak more forcefully than ever for peace; to be less cozy with heads of state. Fewer photo ops, more tough questioning.
As Mei Li, a non-Catholic friend in largely Muslim Malaysia remarked, “How many people get to start anew like this? A new name, a new life, a new kingdom here on earth. He could be what keeps thousands, maybe millions of people from getting AIDS. Even if my vote does not count, so to speak, I have to care what he teaches.”
Demonstrating that Everyone Counts It’s up to Pope Francis to demonstrate that everyone counts. We rejoice that he stands with the poor. Sr. Simone Campbell, who led the Nuns on the Bus, sees someone who will not, for instance, take kindly to Paul Ryan’s Budget Redux. While not optimistic about immediate change on gender equality or women’s rights over their own bodies, she expresses confidence that as this Pope learns more about the global church, he “will be touched by other peoples, see their struggles, see their lives and let his heart be broken.” And in that brokenness, might lie an opening for change.
Lay Catholics and religious who believe that we are overdue for reform will have to keep pressing for change grounded in the real lives of people today. Sr. Simone points out that the Vatican’s draconian actions against the nuns prompted a rallying of the laity. The sex abuse scandals stirred Catholics out of the pews into greater engagement within their parishes. Vatican II Catholics need to affirm even more the ways in which it refreshed our faith. http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50143016n
Bring on the mischief Time will tell whether Pope Francis does indeed have something of the soul and culture of these islands. We will see whether his initiatives call to mind that familiar Hawaiian olelo noeau about the interconnectedness of the future and the past: “I ka was ma mua, ka wa ma hope.” Catholics understand that we cannot ignore the past or throw out all of tradition. We simply want to draw the best skeins from the past to weave a better world, leaving what is threadbare behind. I share the optimism of Sr. Simone that the election of Pope Francis is a sign that “the Holy Spirit is alive and well and making mischief.” Bring on the mischief.
First published on http://www.civilbeat.com/voices/2013/03/17/18612-a-pope-from-hawaii/