The White Smoke Has Cleared! We Have a Pope!
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
I was born and raised by two devout Roman Catholic parents from the Philippines and so it was natural for me to witness the decorative altars in our home as I was growing up.
My mother and father, both had personal rosaries from which to pray with, and one each for every car we owned as a talisman to the Catholic faith.
My first memory of my experience in the Catholic church was climbing the marble steps of St. Catherine of Siena Church to reach the main sanctuary, holding my father’s hand as we walked quietly to a middle-row pew.
I was, as always when we went to church on a Sunday, well-dressed, obedient, and watchful—mindful of how to follow my parents’ lead in the sign of the cross, when to kneel, shake hands, and learn the church’s holy prayers: the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Apostle’s Creed.
Unsure of myself, but willing and ready to learn, I had devoted my skill in remembering the order of the liturgy, in awe at the beauty of the priest’s vestments, the pristine glow of the chalice, and my favourite part of the mass: the prayers spoken before the Eucharist is raised to the sound of chimes signifying not only the Body of Christ, but for me, His death and resurrection.
I loved the solemnity of the weekly service, the ability to know, follow, and participate in the acts of its prayers and communion and to feel absolved after communion and mass.
I come from a devout Catholic family who’s always been interested in spirituality. My father as a young man had considered becoming a priest. And I, in his footsteps, had seriously considered entering a nunnery after my religious studies at Holy Name of Mary and my relationship and peer ministry with the Felician Sisters.
And though I would later leave the Catholic institutional church later on in my life, having converted to evangelical Christianity, it was with great pride that I was able to witness the election of a new Pope this past Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
While my theological views have somewhat altered and my religious practices differ from my religious upbringing, I have and do hold the Roman Catholic church up in respect and tenderness because of that very history and of course, their reverence to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Religion is not an event, nor a labelling discourse of theological beliefs, but a spiritual outlet in which to express and experience one’s faith in community.
And so, it is with great joy I was able to celebrate with my brothers and sisters in Christ for the naming of the new Pope on Wednesday on behalf of the Catholic community.
While I don’t revere the man himself, as his role as pontiff does not replace nor rise above God’s own and true authority, I do hope and pray for his spiritual wisdom, obedience, and servitude to Christ and Christ’s teachings.
I did not witness the white smoke which traditionally announces the conclave’s conclusion in its decision in naming a new pontiff, but I was made aware of it the moment it happened, believe it or not, on Twitter!
Which led me to turn on the television and search for live coverage of this historical event. The amount of people not only gathered around the Vatican at St. Peter’s Square that day, but also the multitude of people listening in on radio and watching the news all at the same time in anticipation of this news, made the camaraderie and unity of Christian faith even more intense and prevalent.
I watched nuns in prayer, clutching rosaries, their eyes closed in hopeful reverence. I watched men waving their countries’ flags in excitement. I saw young children on the shoulders of their fathers, waiting for their Catholic blessing from the new pope. I listened to the crowd of patrons chanting in unison, “Viva il Papa!” which means, “Long live the Pope!” in Italian.
The fervour of the crowd was infectious. The anticipation of this historical change, obvious. And then the drapes on the Vatican balcony stirred.
The announcement of the new Pope was made! And out came this simply dressed man in white with a humility and thoughtfulness that addressed the world:
Pope Jorge Mario Begoglio Francis I
Pope Francis I’s humility precedes him in his choices to live a simple, unadorned life. As an Archbishop, he was known to take the bus rather than taxi and would walk among the people. He even turned down the opportunity to live in the palatial Archbishop’s residence, but chose to live in a small apartment instead.
This seems right, indicative, and reflective of Jesus’ teaching in the Bible:
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-25 (NIV)
His humility and acts of servitude is also evident in his visit to a hospice of patients afflicted with HIV/AIDS in 2001 when he washed and kissed its patients’ feet.
This is reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching and own act of humility and servitude in washing His disciples’ feet even though He himself is God.
The pope, too, has been known to literally take the “back seat” when gathering with cardinals, often opting to sit at the back during conferences.
This, too, is reflective of the attitude in which Jesus advises the invited guests to a gathering of the Pharisees:
“But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” – Luke 14:10-11 (NASB)
What is also inspiring about Pope Francis I is his outspoken stand for righteousness rather than legalism in his decision to baptize children born out-of-wedlock and his admonition to those that would deny children this sacrament.
It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching and welcome of little children when He said,
“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” – Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)
While he’s been criticized in North America for his conservatism: matters in which he is against birth control, abortion, and same-sex marriage; he stands as one would in representing and following deeply embedded Catholic beliefs and doctrine.
And he is well-versed as he is well-educated. Before becoming an Archbishop, he taught literature, philosophy, theology, psychology and holds a master’s degree in chemistry. He also knows a number of languages: Spanish, Italian, and German.
But, it is his humility that is most striking; his spirit of servitude that is most impressive; and his theology alive in action as well as his sensitivity to the poor.
You’d also be surprised to know that under his pontiff hat, he’s also got quite a wonderful sense of humour! It was reported by The Toronto Star that during the dinner after the Pope’s election, the cardinals made a toast to him in which he responded, “May God forgive you.” (As shared by Cardinal Dolan.)
Christians will easily understand the humour in this as what is implied by it: It is considered a “sin” to practice drunkenness as it removes form of reason and clear thinking as it is a sin to commit acts of idolatry since Christians are called to love God with his or her entire being as commanded in the Holy Bible:
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’” “’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” – Mark 12:28-30 (NIV)
—which I believe (and hope and pray) is something Pope Francis I will continually obey in an act of service to God, God’s glory, and His Church.
The Associated Press quotes the Pope Francis I as saying,
“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.”
This is the call of every Christian — Catholic, Evangelical, or not. And a hopeful message to share with the world: A hopeful message because it comes from the Catholic’s new spiritual leader—and a hopeful message because it is true.
And in this, as in all things, may God be glorified.
Did you withness the announcement of the new pontiff this past March?
What do you think of Pope Francis I?
What do you hope for the Catholic Church after the election of its new spiritual leader?
What are one of Jesus’ teachings do you find wonderful and something you aim to subscribe to in your own life?
If a Christian, what ways do you actively try to live out your faith?
What is your favourite verse in the Holy Bible?