Not more than an hour ago, the College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina to be the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Bergoglio, who has taken the papal name of Francis, is the first Jesuit priest to be named to the papacy, as well as the first non-European pope of modern times. He delivered a wonderfully humble and egalitarian address from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica after his election, leading the people in prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict and choosing three prayers every Catholic child knows–the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Gloria–and then asking the people to pray for him before he offered his blessing to them. He has a sweetly non-formal air, joking that the other cardinals “went to the end of the world” to choose their bishop and eventually leaving the loggia saying “Brothers and sisters, I leave you. Thank you so much for your welcome. I’ll see you soon. Good evening and have a good rest.” The major emphasis of his first address was on acknowledging the brotherhood of the whole world.
It is probably an odd thing to be reporting this on a Pagan spirituality record, but I strongly believe that all spiritual paths lead to the same great, inclusive divinity. Therefore, I like to take note of how other faiths are led and who their role models are. As I watched Pope Francis deliver his first address, I found myself beginning to cry. The Catholic church–my former spiritual home–is such a large church, and it has the potential to move so many people to higher aims. Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen my former church become little more than a wailing siren for so many “anti-” stances. The media turns to the Catholic Church when they want soundbites railing against abortion, homosexuality, or restrictive heterosexuality. And then, of course, there has been countless cases of priests sexually abusing children and other congregants. While I do not believe Pope Francis will roll in any change on most of these fronts (though I do fervently hope he champions some major action against sexual abuse), I do believe that he will shift some attention to better focuses for the church–humility, brotherhood, and compassion. I certainly look forward to his papacy.
I also offer up my own prayer. I pray that in the coming years, we see clear boundaries arise between civil morality and religious morality. It is the Catholic religion’s stance that all life is sacrosanct–even those of fetuses and those who wish to be euthanized. Many other religions share that position, but others do not. It is the Catholic religion’s stance–and that of many others–that marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman undertaken for the purpose of procreation. Other religions have a different view on marriage. Yet, both parties must live in the same countries. I pray that the countries take steps to create legal space for members of any religion to practice their religions fully and safely. I also pray that the entire interfaith community can come together to teach increased respect and tolerance across religious lines.