Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 8, 2014

House of Burgess: I like your style, Pope

Pope Francis breaks with tradition.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— It was New Year’s Eve in the Carmelite community in Lucena, Spain, when the phone rang. And rang. Finally, it clicked over to voicemail.

“What are the nuns doing that they can’t answer?” said the jovial male voice on the other end. “I am Pope Francis, I wish to greet you in this end of the year, I will see if I can call you later. May God bless you!”

Imagine their shock when they played the message back later.

“The nuns passed the audio message to the Spanish radio network COPE, which is linked to the body that runs the Roman Catholic Church in Spain,” reported CNN’s Radina Gigova and Al Goodman on Saturday. “The nuns were praying when Francis called shortly before noon, and so didn’t answer, the radio network said.”

I generally don’t give voice to my personal opinion on the heads of religions to which I don’t belong, but I’ve gotta say, I like this pope. Since he assumed the head of both his church and the Vatican City state March 13, 2013, Pope Francis (née Jorge Mario Bergoglio) has shaken things up at every turn.

“While Popes have for centuries washed the feet of the faithful on the day before Good Friday, never before had a pontiff washed the feet of a woman,” reported The Daily Telegraph’s Harriet Alexander March 28, 2013, Maundy Thursday. “That one of the female inmates at the prison in Rome was also a Serbian Muslim was also a break with tradition.”

In November, Pope Francis made international headlines when photos of him blessing and kissing a horribly disfigured man, who was possibly the victim of neurofibromatosis, went viral. While I certainly don’t support his views on everything, I recognize the first-ever Argentinean Jesuit pontiff has made notable attempts at outreach to the marginalized.

“Speaking to reporters on a flight back from Brazil, he reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s position that homosexual acts were sinful, but homosexual orientation was not,” reported the BBC July 29. “He was responding to questions about whether there was a ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican. ‘If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, [the Pope said,] who am I to judge?’”

He also seems to have a real hatred of income inequality. “Not paying a just [wage], not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making personal profit,” he said on Radio Vatican May 1, 2013. “That goes against God!”

He has extended his eschewing of worldliness to his own living situation. “Pope Francis has decided not to move into the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace, but to live in a suite in the Vatican guesthouse,” reported Cindy Wooten of the National Catholic Reporter March 26, 2013.

And the head of the 1.2 billion-strong religion also used Radio Vatican on May 22, 2013, to announce that Jesus had enough salvation for atheists, too. “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics,” he said. “Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” (The Rev. Thomas Rosica later took it upon himself to officially retract this statement.)

Pope Francis came to power after Pope Benedict XVI (née Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger) suddenly ended his eight-year reign by tendering his resignation, in Latin, Feb. 11, 2013. The surprise announcement left many wondering what was next. “The uncertainty is deepened because there is just one precedent for a voluntary resignation by a pope — Celestine V, more than 700 years ago,” reported Steve Doughty and Hannah Roberts of the Daily Mail Feb. 13, 2013.

During the 872 years before Celestine V spent five months of 1296 as pope, four other Celestines before him held the same position. After the fifth Celestine’s resignation, though, there hasn’t been a single one since.

I don’t see any more Benedicts coming, either, at least for the foreseeable future. Francis, though? That name might have some legs.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.