There's something about the election of a new Pope that brings out the joy in a Catholic. Even one as grumpy and ornery as me.
Today's elevation of Argentina's Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy brought me joy and excitement. His first appearance on the balcony of St. Peter's included so many beautiful moments. In appearance, he was humble -- even a bit bewildered. Nothing like the strongman certainty of John Paul II or the shyness of Benedict XVI. In profile, the new pontiff was reminiscent of the Good Pope -- John XXIII. His Italian was friendly and informal -- he seems to be speaking to the crowd, not at them. When he bent down to pray, asking the people to pray with him, my heart went out to him. I crossed myself when he blessed the crowd -- after all, I was watching, as were they! And I was won over when he wished the people a good night and a restful sleep.
The tech-savvy production values weren't bad either. I watched over YouTube, which streamed his first comments live. Great camera placement, too -- even inside looking out - giving a Pope's eye view of the jewel-lit city.
Then, there was the choice of a papal name -- Francis I. I had worried that picking a recent name -- Pius, John, Paul, John Paul or Benedict -- would signal a too-close allegiance to pontiffs and policies of the recent past. By taking the name of Francis of Assisi, the beloved 13th-century church reformer and lover of the poor, this 21st-century pope was signalling his wish to take the Church in a new direction -- perhaps one more in line with the Gospel's love of the poor and advocacy on their behalf.
It is way too early to tell whether this pontificate with be a boon or a bust for the Church. I expect no changes in the Church's entrenched positions on celibacy, an all-male priesthood, abortion or contraception. But on this day of joy and hope, I pray that the Holy Spirit takes wing under our Church and lifts it toward greater light and holiness.