Will New Pope Face 'Age-Old' Problem?

Friday, 15 Mar 2013 04:16 PM

By Chris Freind

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Who says the Catholic Church can’t change? By electing Jorge Bergoglio, it just made history. The list of “firsts” is impressive:
 
• First Pope from the Americas
• First non-European in 1,200 years
• First Latin American pontiff
• First to take the name Francis
• And he’s the first Jesuit Pope.
 
The selection of Bergoglio is interesting. He modernized the Argentinian Church and showed guts by clashing with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on important issues. Infinitely more attractive, though, is how he conducts his personal life.
 
He cooked his own meals, lived in a one-room apartment, and more often than not, walked or took public transportation. (Though, on this last point, we can give many American Cardinals a pass. Could you imagine Your Eminence in Philadelphia taking the Broad Street Subway, or Cardinal Dolan in New York walking in the Bronx? It’s great to have God on your side, but honestly, a Glock .45 “on his side” would serve them better.)
 
Upon becoming Pope, Bergoglio didn’t don the typical red papal vestments, but a plain white robe. He wasn’t laden with gold and jewels, but adorned with a simple wooden cross. He asked the throngs in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him.
 
Rather than preaching in liturgical platitudes, he actually spoke to the flock. He eschewed the special chair on a raised platform, choosing to greet each cardinal on the same level, showing he was still one of them. Forsaking the Pope car, he rode to the hotel on the bus with all the cardinals, later invoking laughter as he toasted them: “May God forgive you!”
 
And upon checkout, he paid the hotel bill himself and carried his own luggage.
 
Not a bad start.
 
St. Francis heard Christ speak to him: “Repair my Church.”
 
In that regard, Pope Francis has his work cut out for him. As one of “God’s Marines,” as the Jesuits are known, he will have to fight every day to repair a fractured Church. Modernize without compromise, apologize and sanitize, and organize and proselytize.
 
A herculean task, and one compounded by his age. He is 76. Is such a consideration discriminatory? Ageist? Unfair? Absolutely. But also true. Like it or not, age and appearance matter.
 
Maybe 76 is the new 56. Maybe Pope Francis will be photographed fist-bumping a 10-year-old. Maybe his charisma knows no bounds, allowing him to resonate with all generations, reinvigorating the faithful and inspiring the departed to return.
 
But it will take an extraordinary amount of energy and strength, attributes which clearly had left Pope Benedict. Will Pope Francis have the necessary stamina? Time will tell.
 
Let’s be clear. For this pope to be effective, he must be a globetrotter. And yes, that means regularly visiting that not-so-obscure country, one accounting for millions of Catholics and billions in Church coffers, and also happens to be the leader of the world. It’s called the United States, and papal visits every decade don’t, and won’t, cut it. Benedict’s first (and only) visit was in 2008, three years after becoming Pope. Because of his frailty, more numerous trips didn’t occur, and that perfectly illustrates why age matters.
 
Those who criticize the questioning of age are not dealing with reality. Age was a major issue with numerous presidential candidates, not just from a health standpoint, but also relatability. However, if anyone proved that age could be overcome, it was Ronald Reagan. Despite being on death’s door after the assassination attempt, the nation’s oldest-elected president nonetheless traveled the world, rebuilt a battered economy, and defeated communism, in the process freeing more people than any other person in history.
 
But Francis begins his papacy only one year younger than whenReagan left office. Age will become a factor, and we may be choosing another Pope within a decade. Is this the new precedent? Is choosing a new leader every few years necessary to adapt with the times, hoping a fresh perspective will keep Catholics interested? Or will such a practice lead to a “been there, done that” tedium?  
 
One thing is certain. Pope Francis can be either a global communicator, or can stay in the Vatican and clean house, cutting its massive bureaucracy and reforming from within. But he can’t do both.
 
Here’s hoping he appoints some take-no-prisoners lieutenants to do the latter, and resurrects the world force for good the Church was, prior to the scandals. And since he is 76, there’s no better time than the present.
 
Given that Bergoglio chose to emulate such a model human in St. Francis, the cardinals may have, in fact, chosen wisely.
 
And since the rain that had been pouring on St. Peter’s Square just happened to stop the moment before Pope Francis was announced to the world, it seems The Big Guy agrees.
 
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Freindly Fire Zone. Read more reports from Chris Freind — Click Here Now.
 
 
 
 

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