For Catholics—and many others—what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome. The seating of a new pope has the power to affect believers across the globe, in ways direct, indirect, and unpredictable. And when a surprising sea change occurs in a hide-bound, steeped-in-tradition place like the Vatican—the unexpected resignation of a pope, the selection of a Jesuit from the Americas as his replacement, and the powerful symbolism of a new leader who literally stoops to wash a Muslim woman’s feet—people of faith of all traditions sit up and take notice.
In these early days of Francis’ papacy, we asked three prominent Catholic thinkers and leaders to help us understand what it all might mean. How will the spirit of reform that has marked Pope Francis’ first few months in office affect the worldwide church? Will change at the top trickle down to parishes and neighborhoods here in the United States and elsewhere? And what will Francis’ leadership mean not only for Catholics, but for all people of faith engaged in the work of making justice and building peace? —The Editors
CATHOLICS AROUND THE WORLD are transfixed by Pope Francis. We love his simplicity of life, his humble faith, his welcoming attitude to all, and his way of being Christian in the contemporary world that takes its bearings from the poor. Lace and gilt are no longer fashion statements at the Vatican. From his small apartment, the pope speaks bluntly about worrying less about rules and more about love. An utterly refreshing breeze blows through the Catholic Church.
But what does it really mean for Catholics today? The church still reels with the moral and spiritual damage done by members of the clergy as perpetrators or accomplices in the sex abuse scandals, from fiscal mismanagement, and from institutional infighting. Does Pope Francis change that? And what does the new pope signify for the young, for women, and for the many issues that vex the church’s engagement in today’s world?