At last, a Pope for the masses

I cannot profess to be enamoured of the Catholic Church though I was raised in the faith. The reasons matter not to anyone else but they are numerous and genuine. Have to say, though, I am liking this new Pope, Francis.

The rigid conservatism of Benedict VXI left me cold. As it did many others. I can accept that traditionalists cling to the past and ‘the old ways’. There are good and valid reasons for believing that rituals which have centuries or even millennia of unbroken sameness underpinning them should not be tampered with lightly.

Yet, our contemporary world is characterised – more than anything else – by the frenetic and constant pace of change. Even the globe’s weather system appears to be subject to rapid and pervasive change. Not to mention just about every other facet of daily life for the vast majority of humanity.

Our adaptability and incessant ‘progress’ are core traits of what sets us apart from other life forms. It is hardly surprising, then, that many people view the rigidity of many of the tenets of organised religions – not just the Catholic Church – as unfathomable, unacceptable and irrelevant to contemporary life.

The dwindling numbers of believers identified by censuses around the world surely suggest there is a basic schism now between traditionalists and reformers that is growing ever wider?

Which makes Pope Francis I very refreshing and perhaps what is needed to make the Catholic Church appear much more relevant to sceptics and the disaffected (though it would take a “second coming” to alter my own entrenched prejudices, I have to confess).

The new leader of the Catholics has created controversy in one of his first significant ritual ceremonies, the Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday washing of the feet.

This tradition hails back to the story of Christ washing the feet of his twelve disciples at the Last Supper. Because all the disciples were men, the tradition has been for the Pope to only ever wash the feet of men.

Additionally, this ritual became more sterilised by having the Pope wash the feet of twelve priests. The symbolism of that makes sense.

Yet, Francis has signalled a new approach to basic Christian tenets by choosing twelve inmates of a juvenile detention centre it of Rome. He washed the feet of black youths, white, male and female and even one with tattoos. And he performed the ceremony in the straitened detention centre rather than the customary grand basilica of St John Lateran.

Arch-conservatives are apoplectic that the Pope should wash the feet of women with a leading canonical lawyer accusing the Pope of setting a questionable example. And this bloke probably wonders why the church is languishing. Go figure.

But you could bet Rome to a mortal sin that Francis knows just what he is doing and is surely comfortable in believing his symbolism is appropriate.