The authority of the Pope in the Catholic Church is often one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Church. The lineage of the Pope starts with St. Peter and can be traced all the way through Pope Francis, quite a remarkable feat for a 2,000 year old institution! Yet the role of the Pope is often very misconstrued by both Christians and non-Christians. The Pope’s main role is as the visible head and symbol of unity for the Catholic Church. The Pope’s role as “Supreme Pontiff” entitles him to make the selection of bishops and cardinals and to be the final decision in any disputes within the Catholic Church. While the Pope has always been a public figure, the public became fixated on the role of the Pope this past spring.
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On February 11th, 2013, the Catholic Church became the focus of media worldwide. In what seemed like an unprecedented event, Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement—from pope-dom! All of the sudden, the Catholic Church was receiving positive press coverage from a bewildered media. The appointment of pope is a lifelong appointment so how could this happen, and why!? I’m sure all of you watched the coverage as main stream media attempted to explain the inner workings of the Roman Curia and the election of the pope, perhaps some of you even placed bets on who the next pope may be.
In a very momentous moment in the Catholic Church, the first South American pope was elected: Pope Francis. Of course, the crowd immediately fell in love with him, he was a cute old man, visibly humble and dedicated to social justice. There were immediate speculations on how Pope Francis was going to change the Church and how his history and personality were going to impact his role as Pope.
Within his first few months as Pope, Pope Francis has shown that he is not going to fulfill the ‘typical’ role as Pope. From showing up to pay his hotel bill after his selection as Pope to insisting on living in simple quarters, Pope Francis has stayed true to his Jesuit roots to his devout humility in Christ. In a recent interview when asked about who he was, Pope Francis responds with “I am a sinner”.
In many ways, Pope Francis has taken the world by surprise. From the surprise announcement by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI of his retirement to Pope Francis’ ‘selfie’ that has taken over Buzzfeed, Pope Francis has proven that he is not going to going to stick to the traditional role of the Pope.
We witnessed his humility once again in his response to Syria. Rather than issue an official promulgation on the stance of the Church, Pope Francis called for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting, along with the message “pray for peace”. In his actions, Pope Francis appealed to the universality of the Church. Prayer and fasting are both simple actions that Catholics and non-Catholics alike can partake in, and peace is a message everyone can agree on. The Notre Dame community joined in this international effort with an entire day of prayer and fasting for Syria. Pope Francis spread his message to a worldwide audience with his a series of tweets from @Pontifex that included the message #prayforpeace. This trend took off as thousands of follows joined in prayers and fasting (and tweets!) for peace.
Pope Francis has transitioned into a tremendously important role with the grace and humility only a man in a deep relationship with God may attain. He calls us all to “replace dogma with love”, not to forget our faith but to ensure that we also remember Christ’s call to love. His faithful service to the Catholic Church has been a true witness to Catholics across the globe and through his actions we are reminded of our own call to a profound love for Christ.