Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mazel Tov, Pope Francis I

For most of my life one man was in charge of a small kingdom with one of the largest populations in the world. This kingdom has a standing army, more property than most kingdoms - almost all of it outside it's borders, an incredible art collection that draws tourists from every nation, a newspaper, a bank and it's citizens are also all citizens of other countries.

This kingdom is also facing some very serious political issues - most of which have cropped up in the last 8 years.

I am speaking, of course, of the Catholic Church and tonight she has a new Pope.

Eight years ago when Pope Benedict XVI was elected into this highest office the world was mourning the loss of Pope John Paul II. While many would think that only those directly affected by the Vatican would care one way or the other about the political ins and outs of this physically small country, in reality the tone the Pope sets affects anyone of faith, regardless of their faith. I remember the day that John Paul II passed my father and I spoke on the phone, both saddened by the loss of this great man who's reign saw many positive changes between the Catholic Church and the Jewish faith. I know we were not the only Jews who mourned his loss and were grateful for his lengthy rule.

Then Pope Benedict was elevated and I have to say, no offense intended to any of my Catholic friends or family, but I have no idea what the College of Cardinals was thinking on that one. My only guess was that what has turned out to be an even bigger quagmire of politics at the Vatican than I originally believed existed overruled faith in this instance. Unfortunately, the Church and it's relationship with various countries, faiths and it's own citizenry are the worse off for this decision. That said, there are two rulings made by Benedict that, I believe, were outstanding on his part. The beatification of Pope John Paul II and his most recent decision to abdicate. Unfortunately, however, I also believe that his 8 year reign may have caused a backslide for the Church, potentially erasing the progress John Paul II made in his 27 years as Pope.

Which brings us to today's elevation of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Pope Francis I. There are so many firsts with this election that I cannot even begin to fathom what they will all mean. First Pope from South America, heck the Americas in general. First Jesuit Pope. First Francis. First non-European Pope since the 700s. Probably the first Pope to ride a bus to and from work. First Pope with only one lung. First Pope to ask the crowd to pray with him rather than praying at the crowd gathered below the loggia. So, in his first hour as Pope he is already making changes. OK, I know - we won't know what type of Pope he will be until he is in the job for at least 6 months if not longer. I don't think he'll be allowed to sell the Vatican and move into a small apartment in the middle of Rome while cooking for himself and taking a bus to work as he did in Buenos Aries, but my guess is that his Papal Apartment will not be as richly furnished as some of his predecessors. I also have a feeling the people of Rome will see more of him as his biography says he likes to be amongst the people.

What really struck me was how he looked as he stepped out on the loggia to great those gathered in St. Peter's Square. He looked humble. He looked like a grandfather. And to top it all off - he looked petrified. I am not saying that he looked as though he can't handle the job. Rather, I think he knows exactly what he is in for and the fact that there was a bit of fear in his eyes tells me that this man is humble enough to know he is human, not G-d, and that he now has the eyes of the world upon him asking him to bring reform to an organization not known for liking change of any kind. That look gave me a bit more confidence in Pope Francis than any of the firsts that come along with this choice.

All that said, and yes I know I have said more than a mouthful, I don't have skin in this game. Not really, anyway. I am not a Catholic. I am not directly affected by anything this man will say or do during his time as Pope. His choices, his interpretations of what he feels G-d is telling him, will not affect my world, my Sundays, my son's religious education or even my holidays. Instead, it is how he interacts with and speaks about my faith and his opinions on women's rights that will affect me directly.  From what I have read so far, I think he is a good choice for faith and not necessarily so good for women. But time will tell.

All of this excitement happened right as I was getting ready to get my son from the bus after school. In fact, I was yelling at the TV that they needed to hurry up so I could get to the bus stop on time. After we came back to the house, I decided that I needed to tell my son a bit about this historic occasion. In my 43 years there have only been 4 Popes counting Pope Francis. In fact, I was not much older than my son is now when John Paul II was elevated to Pope. So, for the first time I spoke with Sammy about a religion other than Judaism, telling him that he probably had friends who were Catholic, about the Pope and about how he was now in charge of the Church. That's when my son surprised me not once, but twice.

We were looking at a picture of Pope Francis on CNN and he said "G-d is in him. A lot of G-d is in him." I know my son believes that G-d is in everyone, so I wasn't surprised that he said the first part of the sentence, but the second, that Pope Francis has a lot of G-d in him, was rather astute as I thought the same thing just thirty minutes before.

Then came the second surprise. He looked at me and said "When people die, they go under a tomb stone and then their piece of G-d goes back to G-d." I asked him if he meant that their souls go back to heaven and he replied "No. The piece of G-d that lives in their heart. That goes back to G-d so it can come back down again."

No, we haven't spoken about reincarnation, or the difference between a piece of G-d and a soul. This is entirely his own interpretation of how G-d is in each and every one of us. The same G-d, regardless of what we call him/her/it. I guess those three years at Jewish preschool did lay down a pretty good basis for faith, whatever Sammy decides his faith will be.

So, bringing us back to today's news. It has been a day full of faith. A day to discover who the 115 older men (not so democratic an organization, but again - no skin in the game so trying not to judge) chose to lead this large Kingdom. A day to find out exactly how outside the box they decided to go. A day to hear a far less polished man speak from the balcony of a monarch. And a day to discover just how deep my son's faith goes at this young age.

Mazel Tov, Pope Francis. May your time as Pope bring peach and joy to your flock and may the path you forge be one of peace.

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