18Mar Who are the people waiting for Pope Francis?

Pat Howard, columnist and managing editor of the Erie Times-News, my hometown newspaper, brought his own experience of church-watching to this second papal election in eight years. His description of having been disappointed in the way the church has responded to the questions of the time in the last two papacies gave me a new way to understand what I have been hearing from so many people in so many places these last three weeks.

The importance of Howard’s opinion piece as a bellwether comment lies in the fact that Erie, PA, is not a hotbed of dissent against anything. On the contrary: This is the kind of small city Americans call “a great place to raise a family.” There are churches in every neighborhood of every stripe in the Christian catalog. There are some longtime Jewish synagogues with their congregations deeply embedded in the life of the city. There is a growing Muslim social center and a strong core of new refugees. We are, that is, a mixed population, and we live together well. There is nothing either New Age or critically atheistic about the area’s social climate. On the contrary: This is a place that registers “average” on just about every social index. Obviously, then, opinion here can be thought to cover a great deal of ground.

So while reams are being written about what kind of man this new pope should be — scholar, saint, administrator, reformer, whatever — Howard puts his finger on what kind of people are waiting for this pope, whoever and whatever he is. He describes his own growing disillusion with the character of the church and his reasons for it in ways that are eerily reminiscent of similar conversations across the country and from one group to another.

Howard is clear about the issue: “Pope Benedict’s Vatican labeled … as part of the problem (those who were) too willing to entertain questions and views the hierarchy has declared to be verboten … too open to engaging the real lives, moral qualms and evolving understanding of people in the modern world…. “I still believe the church will change in due course,” he concludes. “…What I underestimated was the weariness that comes with the waiting.”

That’s it exactly, I said to myself. It is weariness that is palpable in so many groups now. “I have very little hope in this election,” I hear over and over again. “It will all simply go on business as usual,” they say, and you can almost hear the sigh in the voices.

The problem is that weariness is far worse than anger. Far more stultifying than mere indifference. Weariness comes from a soul whose hope has been disappointed one time too many. To be weary is not a condition of the body — that’s tiredness. No, weariness is a condition of the heart that has lost the energy to care anymore.

People are weary of hearing more about the laws of the church than the love of Jesus.

People are weary of seeing whole classes of people — women, gays and even other faith communities again — rejected, labeled, seen as “deficient,” crossed off the list of the acceptable.

They are weary of asking questions that get no answers, no attention whatsoever, except derision.

They suffer from the lassitude that sets in waiting for apologies that do not come.

There’s an ennui that sets in when people get nothing but old answers to new questions.

There’s even worse fatigue that comes from knowing answers to questions for which, as laypersons, they are never even asked.

More false news of a priest shortage drains the energy of the soul when you know that issue could easily be resolved by the numbers of married men and women who are standing in line waiting to serve if for some reason or other, some baptisms weren’t worth less than others.

They get tired of watching Anglican converts and their children take their place at the altar.

It gets spiritually exhausting to go on waiting for a pastor again and instead getting a scolding, reactionary church whose idea of perfection is the century before the last one rather than the century after this one.

They’re weary of seeing contraception being treated as more sinful than the sexual abuse of children.

All in all, they’re weary of being told, “Don’t even think about it.” They’re weary of being treated as if they are bodies and souls without a brain.

It’s weariness, weariness, weariness. It’s not an angry, violent, revolutionary response. It’s much worse than that. It’s a weary one, and weariness is a very dangerous thing. When people are weary, they cease to care; they cease to listen; they cease to wait.

These are the kind of people who waited for a new pope, whatever kind of man he might be.

At first sight, Jorge Mario Bergoglio — Pope Francis — is a quiet and humble man, a pastoral man and as a Latin American, a leader of 51 million Catholics, or the largest concentration of Catholics on the planet, which is not business-as-usual as far as papal history goes.

But perhaps the most profound and memorable moment of his introduction is that he presented himself on the balcony in front of thousands of people from all parts of the world not in the brocaded fashion of a pope, but in a simple white cassock.

And then came the real shock: He bowed to the people. Bowed. And asked them to pray a blessing down on him before he blessed them. Francis, I remembered, was the Christian who reached out to Muslims. Francis, the one who listened to every creature in the universe and dialogued with it.

Indeed, if this Francis, too, is a listener, there is hope for reconciliation, hope for healing, hope for the development of the church.

No doubt about it: We know who the people are who have been waiting for a pope and why they are weary. The question now is, Does he know how weary they are? And does he care? Really?F

From where I stand, something has to change. Maybe, just maybe, this time…

13 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    …”weariness is a very dangerous thing. When people are weary, they cease to care; they cease to listen; they cease to wait.”
    Yes,indeed, I nodded my head to that. I/we understand weariness. It is dangerous because it dehumanises us. It padlocks the heart. We’ve got to make a big mental effort to move from passivity to action. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can do it. Words of encouragement help too. Knowing we are not alone helps enormously. Sign the Resolution, for a start, if you haven’t already done so or explain the reasons why you won’t or can’t. I’m appealing to the weary ordained here.
    I think also that we are expecting too much of one 78 year old man. That’s dangerous too. Give this new Pope time to find his bearings. Everything I have seen and heard so far has been positive. A questionable past? It doesn’t seem to fit in with the character of the man. Let’s give him a chance and our prayerful support. Let’s take some responsibility ourselves.
    ( sign that Resolution if you haven’t already done so. Please.)

  2. Soline Humbert

    @1….”Let’s give him a chance and our prayerful support .AND
    “Let’s take some responsibility ourselves.”
    I agree wholeheartedly with you, Mary. There is wisdom in that well known quote: “We are the people we are waiting for”! We are all disciples of Christ,and the renewal/healing of the church depends on each one of us and our openness to the Holy Spirit.
    It is our calling and responsibility.
    And may I add that if Francis has appeared, Clare cannot be far….

  3. Pascal O'Dea

    Mary,
    which resolution? Are you referring to the Fr Tony Flannery petition?

  4. Mary O Vallely

    It’s at the top of the page, Pascal. Just click where it says,’Invitation to sign a resolution….’

    “In the light of the above teaching from the Synod of Bishop in 1971, we the undersigned ask the Irish Bishops’ Conference to meet, as soon as possible, with those Irish priests who have been censured by the Vatican in recent year. The purpose of the meeting would be to request the Bishops’ Conference to enter into discussions with the CDF to :

    To (explore) how best to resolve the matters that have led to the censuring of the priests and;

    To set up local mediation structures to address any such issues in the future.

    We would like to see this happen as a matter of urgency.”

    Just add your name and parish (your email will not be seen by anyone other than the moderator) Spread the word! Thanks. Mary V

  5. Peter Shore

    There is another weariness. The weariness of people who just want to follow the unchanging teachings of the Catholic Church, without the clamour of voices who have been trying to turn it into something entirely different for the last forty years. Are we allowed to be weary too? Or is it only the “real lives, moral qualms and evolving understanding” of the agitators that must be listened to?

  6. Joe O'Leary

    ” the weariness that comes with the waiting” — I sense an undertow to the massive enthusiasm here in Rome and throughout the world, a sense of “deja vu” — in 8 years we have had the loud chants about 3 different popes SANTO SUBITO, BENEDETTO, FRANCESCO, with the huge poster of Comunione e liberazione dominating the Piazza again and again — lots of people are suffering from pope fatigue. Three of the last four popes have been something like caretaker popes. The expectations loaded on the figure of pope Bergoglio are prima facie unrealistic.

    To revive Catholic hope and vision we need to be able to point to something else than what obsesses the media, names popes and Vatican splendors – something less medieval.

  7. Darlene Starrs

    Well, they say a “change” is as good as a rest!!! It is a super uncomfortable time in the Church Universal! Uncomfortable for those who want the fulfillment of Vatican II and uncomfortable for those who want things to stay the same! Pope Francis is going to increase the “uncomfortability” of the Roman Curia, of the rich, of clerics, and any other person or group, that, represents anything else but the humility, justice, and compassion of Christ. I think, Pope Francis, is the grenade! We will just have to wait and watch! We need to do a lot of observing again, before we will have much to “speak”. However, I really think, we cannot ignore his statements about how the faithful have been clericalized! Yes, I know, he was talking about the circumstances in Japan……but, in the situation, of a “shortage of priests”, it seems to me,….that the Pope provides valuable instruction and direction as to what the remedy can be in the situation….I believe, we have the correct, spiritual, Doctor of the Church, for the moment, and I am hopeful, He will diagnose the problems, or at least some of them, and apply the correct spiritual medicine! Pope Francis will not solve all the problems, but he’s going to give the Church a huge PUSH, in the direction, the Lord wants it to go!

  8. Fergus P Egan

    Waiting?
    For what?
    How can there be a reconciliation for the sins of the Church against its members?
    Will the lies be retracted?
    The pain of the public humiliation we have endured, can that be undone?
    For those of us who have suffered character assassination from the ambo, what are we to wait for?
    Yes! The civil Courts have found us innocent and have vindicated us of the slanderous assaults of the Church and their high priced lawyers; but not so the cardinals, bishops, judicial vicars et al.
    So we wait like a panting dog for some crumbs?
    I think not! I refuse to die waiting.
    I believe in Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, and there is a good priest I know (more than one, actually; and even a bishop or two). But for the most part, the rest is best to ignore.

    Fergus P Egan

  9. Nuala O'Driscoll

    There is no need for weariness in this beautiful world we live in. Today I was surrounded by blue sky, blue sea, yellow daffodils, white snowcapped connemara mountains, blackbirds singing, tonight I can see a star studded sky, filled with galaxies, planets, and a beautiful pearly half moon. Not to forget all the people in my life whom I love and love me. Teilhard de Chardin said his ‘mass on the world’ in the middle of the desert somewhere in Asia, he had neither bread nor wine nor water, he said ‘I your priest will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world’. Let the Church get on with all its intrigues, politics, rules and regulations, life is to be celebrated joy and happiness are to be found in places where one least expects to find them. Watch, listen and be not afraid.

  10. ger gleeson

    Peter Shore at @5 above, I am happy to say that I am one of the “agitators” who wish to change the church. The core beliefs of the church have never been questioned on this site by the ACP or their followers. What is being questioned is the hypocrisy of the Hierarchy, all the way to Rome, who expect us all to be obedient sheep, and do as they preach and not as they do. One example. The institutional church protected paedophile Priests, and allowed them to destroy lives. Good Priests the world over are silenced. I for one will never accept this hypocrisy.

    Pain, weariness and hope are part and parcel of the contributions to this site. Peter, please don’t just read, but study the contributions of Fergus P Egan @8 and Nuala O Driscoll @9 on this website. Just two fellow Catholics who have their stories to tell. Priest’s and people of our church need to be treated with dignity and compassion. No more, no less than Christ himself demands.

  11. Paddy Ferry

    Well said, Ger.

  12. Joe O'Leary

    Nancy, indeed there is a great world out there, known to poets, and it perpetually refreshes our weariness. But today many who weary of the “institutional church” play that world of Nature off against it. And this is a gulf that a pope called Francis and who speaks of the environment might be expected to close (he also seems to love the poetry of Hölderlin, a great nature mystic). But the gulf could also have been expected to be closed by a pope named Benedict who spoke of the environment and loved the nature-friendly writers Theodor Storm, Hesse, Goethe.

  13. Darlene Starrs

    I just do not think, feel, or believe, that Cardinal Bergoglio and Cardinal Ratzinger are cut from the same cloth!


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