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Ann Turner: New pope lifts this Catholic’s hopes

The last decade has been a hard one for many Catholics. The deep wounding of the sexual abuse scandal has worn us down. What happened was inexcusable, and the terrible damage to so many young people is beyond belief. And to see that no bishops were called to legal accountability continues to be very disheartening. So, after the shame and grief of those dark years, to have Pope Francis step out onto the balcony garbed only in white vestments — to see him taking off the papal stole as quickly as he could, to see him bowing for a blessing from the assembled crowd — does something to your heart.

It renewed me and gave me hope, looking to the flame at the center of the church which, despite so many wrongs, has not been extinguished.

Yes, Pope Francis has a lot on his plate. Indeed. Yes, it would be nice to have a woman diaconate re-established, and I wish the Vatican would cease its actions toward the League of Catholic Women Religious. Sure, I’d love for celibacy become optional, and it is interesting that in a 2012 interview, our pope seemed to imply it wasn’t written in stone. Yes, by all means reform the Curia and have more accountability, along with reform of the Vatican Bank. Continue to be open to the voices of the victims of abuse. And I’d like to see the laity have more of a voice within the church as well.

But for now, I’m really not worried about all those issues because the single most important issue has already been met — the Cardinals chose a holy man, someone we can respect and feel passionate about. His goodness radiates from his face and from his hands as he touched and blessed the disabled man in the crowd. On Maundy Thursday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at a juvenile detention center in Rome. He washed the feet of two young women, something never done by any pope in history, as well as washing the feet of two Muslims. This is promising for the Catholic church’s relationship with Islam. Some young men imprisoned in Los Angeles saw the video of the pope washing and kissing the feet of other juvenile detainees. One wrote him a letter saying, “Thank you that you have not given up on us.” I believe these are not just symbolic actions but evidence of an inner core of belief which will propel Pope Francis into action.

If you’re worried about the Argentine junta and the new pope’s actions during that time, I can do no better than to steer you to www.ncronline.org, where they have accurate and ongoing coverage of Pope Francis and his past. Particularly fine is the Rev. Thomas Reese (former editor of “America” magazine) and his assessment of our pope and some of the stories from Argentina. It is clear from Reese’s March 17 article that then-Rev. Bergoglio did not hand over two Jesuits to the junta, but actually tried to persuade them to leave their work in the slums, which understandably they did not want to do. Their names were given by a former colleague under torture, not by Bergoglio.

Adolfo Esquivel, the Argentine who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980, affirms that Bergoglio did not collude with the junta and tried to help the two Jesuits.

Before the Conclave, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio gave a short speech outlining his thoughts about the mission of the church. What particularly heartened me was his analysis of a church that is too “self-referential” and has a kind of “theological narcissism.” He wants the church to reach out into the world, to the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.

His choice of name is, of course, symbolic and meaningful. He sees Francis as a man committed to the poor, to peace, to care for creation and as someone who had a good relationship with Islam. How can this not give us hope?

I, for one, am deeply happy and excited, following the actions of Pope Francis since his election. I think we are going to see change with this pope — maybe not every change each of us would like to see, but necessary changes nonetheless. The cardinals made the right choice this time. Or, as a priest friend of mine said, “They must have left a window in the Sistine Chapel open a crack, so that the Holy Spirit could enter and inspire them.” Somebody say Amen.

Children’s book author Ann Turner lives in Williamsburg.

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