A thoughtful non-Catholic friend, Mei Li, in largely Muslim Malaysia, wondered aloud in a Facebook chat after the election of Pope Francis: “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.”
Yes, believers or not, we all have to care. The skeptics were right. Picking a Pope from the ranks of the nuns was expecting the current crop of cardinals to cast their net further than they could. But Pope Francis may yet prove to be a fisherman who casts a different kind of net.
Countries of the South, where Catholics still fill the churches, rejoice at the selection of a Pope with whom they might claim a closer kinship. It is unclear whether he can ensure the success of a soccer team, or even whether his election proves that God is an Argentine. But the fact that even the weary are tuning in is a good sign.
A Pope with Aloha
We in Hawaii can make a plausible case that Pope Francis is really from these islands. His demeanor as he greeted the people waiting in St. Peter’s Square; his request for a blessing from them before he gave them his; his preference for simplicity; his insistence on joining those who ride the bus; his throwing of caution to the winds, driving through the throngs to his installation in an open car; his stopping to touch and bless an invalid in the crowd–these gestures all have the feel of aloha. To have aloha is to share the breath of life.
His choice of the name, Francis, also establishes a natural kinship to the Hawaiian culture of warm embrace and reverence for nature. Francis, the rich rebel who gave up everything to become the champion of the poor and the abandoned, animals and the environment, worshipper of brother sun and sister moon.
Dare we hope?
Cardinal Bergoglio was known to share Pope Benedict XVI’s views on women’s ordination and how open the church’s doors—and sacraments—should be to homosexuals. Dare we hope that Pope Francis will ensure some abatement of the insistence on obedience over conscience? Is Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier’s swift apology for his recent remarks that pedophilia is an illness, not a crime, a sign that we are coming to an end of the Church’s tragic mis-handling of the ugliness of sexual abuse within its ranks? Can we see an end to the contemporary inquisitions dressed up as “visitations” that women religious have had to put up with? An end to the public rebukes of progressive theologians who have examined the Gospel through the lens of our times? Dare we hope that the Spirit so often silenced might be allowed full throat?
Pope Francis does not fit easily into right or left camps. Allegations have surfaced of what he did or did not do in Argentina’s so-called “Dirty War.” But we have just marked the tenth anniversary of another dirty war, the invasion of Iraq, launched on a lie of epic proportions. That lie is recalled in painful detail on 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. The voices of church leaders were not loud enough to prevent that war. They have not condemned its architects with the same zeal with which they have chastised champions of same sex marriage or women’s reproductive rights. Many of those leaders, clerical and secular, remain powerful, visible and unapologetic.
Pope Francis’ humility lets us hope that he might do better than them—and better than Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. We should look to him to advocate for peace with the passion of the saint whose name he chose. We would like to think he might be more comfortable with people on the street than in places of power –and that he makes the powerful feel uncomfortable.
Sr. Simone Campbell is confident Pope Francis would not support Catholic Congressman Paul Ryan’s Budget Redux. She suggests that as this Pope connects with the global church, he “will be touched by other peoples, see their struggles, see their lives and let his heart be broken.” Through that brokenness, change on issues of gender equality and women’s rights might work its way in.
To hasten that change, Vatican II Catholics must affirm even more the centrality of liberating and uplifting women – and our families. The Vatican’s disciplining of the nuns prompted lay Catholics to rally around the sisters. Catholics left the pews and became more engaged with their parishes in reaction to revelations of sexual abuse. That momentum must continue. Together we can help make important initiatives–like that led by Melinda Gates to make contraceptives widely available to the poor–truly transformative.
The Net of this Fisherman
There is a familiar Hawaiian olelo noeau (proverb) about the interconnectedness of the future and the past: “I ka was ma mua, ka wa ma hope.” Yes, we must respect the past even as we figure out the way forward. We are heirs to wonderful treasures of the faith, treasures that should not be lost in the entanglements of questionable rules. We wait to see if this fisherman will weave a strong net, drawing the best skeins from the past and leaving the threadbare behind. He could start by repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, that odious tool of colonization that decimated native peoples and robbed them of their lands. He, of all people, coming from South America with its bloody history of “Christian” conquest, should do what his predecessors did not.
We wait. We hope. We act.
Dawn Morais Webster is the mother of two young adults, wife of a man with Quaker and Episcopalian roots, was raised in a strongly, pragmatically Catholic family in Malaysia and was educated by Franciscan nuns whom she loved and admired. She currently spends a good deal of time talking back to the neanderthal leadership of the Catholic church in hopes of reclaiming the faith from the stranglehold of its institutional perversions. Her blog at http://freecatholic808 is a small voice–but she believes she is part of a much larger community of dissident voices. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii, Mānoa in 2008. Hawaii has been her home for the past twelve years–and the homage that the islands and the Hawaiian culture pay to the voices of its kupuna (elders) as well as the strong sense of spirituality and rootedness in place and people are healing and allow the soul to sing.