ACU (Australian Catholic University)

ACU Alum

Issue 4, Autumn 2013

Vice Chancellor's column

The changing of the guard at the Vatican as one Pope bade farewell and a new one stepped into the shoes of the fisherman was an occasion for the display of public affection. But it was far more than that. Yes, it was emotional. People love Benedict XVI and were sorry to witness his farewell. However the overwhelming feeling running through the crowd was not sadness or regret, but an almost physical sense of vast purpose. This was not the end of a papacy, let alone the papacy, but the first vital step in its multi-millennial continuation.

In the leviathan entity that succeeded the Roman Empire, the election of a new Pope involves the capacity to pick and oversee those who govern well and to ordain and maintain systems that ensure no other result is possible. Contrary to the hopes of some, the decision was not made by a Church in crisis”. The Church has absorbed the first papal abdication in seven centuries, and moved on. The entity that survived Nero, Attila and Christopher Hitchens calmly processed the exit of Joseph Ratzinger.

There was a sense, as 150,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square to receive the abdication blessing, not that the Church was adrift, but that a brisk and focused wind might usefully fill the sails, and a hint of change in the weather.

The implications of the election of Jose Mario Bergoglio SJ are profound. The former Archbishop of Buenos Aires’ qualities as a great teacher and a humble, inspiring spiritual leader are apparent. Added to these qualities the Church requires a leader with deep capacities of governance to guide the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. The election of Pope Francis challenged assumptions shared by the side-eddy of Western secularism comprising much of Australia’s media.

The first was that trying to fit the “politics” of a papal conclave into the sad repertoire of Australian public analysis, with its “media cycles” and “back downs”, is like critiquing Leonardo against a Dulux paint chart. This decision is dauntingly complex and historic. It does not recognise crayon labels such as “left”, “right” or “scumbag”.

Electing the Vicar of Christ is not the same as Labor Party succession. It is not about politics or policy. Like it or not, for Catholics, this is about truth.

I had the unforgettable experience of being in St Peter’s Square when Pope Francis made his first public appearance on the balcony of the Basilica after his election. The humility his Holiness displayed that chilly Rome evening was far away from an election-night victory speech as it is possible to get. There was no “Victory for the true believers”. There was no “Yes we can”. Rather there was a simpler humbler, “Brothers and sisters, good evening”.

“You know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him.”

They always say there are two types of great speakers. The first can orate to one person, and make them feel as important as a crowd of one hundred thousand. The second can talk to one hundred thousand people, and make each member of that crowd feel as important as if he is being spoken to individually. Judging from his speech when he appeared on the Papal balcony after his election, Pope Francis is a defining example of the second type.

I have heard it said that the Pope will not like the media glare, but for a non-showman, he seems to have a certain instinctive public capacity. From picking the name of probably the most popular Saint in history, to humbling a vast crowd with his own evident humility, to a gentle voice and a real smile, this is a Pontiff who will be hard to dislike.

As a University community ACU welcomes the election of Pope Francis to the See of Peter. In living out our mission, steeped in the Catholic intellectual tradition, we reaffirm our fidelity and offers, His Holiness continued prayers and support as he begins his new ministry in the Church.

Professor Greg Craven is Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University

This is an adaptation of an article that first appeared in The Australian

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