Pope Francis is approaching 100 days as our Holy Father. The beginning of his papal service has drawn massive attention and offered new ways of carrying out the leadership of the Universal Church. There is amazing interest in this unpredictable story. Washington was both fascinated and appalled by a quick election with no visible campaign, no declared candidates, no consultants or commercials, and the only exit polls were black or white smoke from a chimney.
As part of a panel on the new pope at Harvard (not the typical Harvard forum), I asked how a publisher would respond to this novel. Chapter One is about the first papal resignation in 600 years. Chapter Two focuses on a 76-year-old Jesuit priest riding the bus to work as Archbishop of in Buenos Aries. Chapter Three is the story of the conclave, where the Jesuit is elected and calls himself Francis to show commitment to the poor, peace and creation. Chapter Four covers the early days of the new pope as he asks the crowd to bless him before he blesses them, refuses to move into the Apostolic Palace and spends Holy Thursday in jail washing the feet of young prisoners, including women and Muslims. The response probably would have been “don’t waste your time or mine on such fantasy,” but all this actually happened.
Like others, I’ve been watching this story in amazement. More importantly, I have been reading and listening. I find Pope Francis’ morning homilies on the scriptures a daily source of spiritual challenge and enrichment, both provocative and hopeful. After 100 days, Washington often asks how the office has changed the new occupant of that office, whether the new leader has been able to make any real difference and what this beginning suggests for the future. Here are some thoughts on those questions.