This month, we marked the first anniversary of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most historic moments in the history of our Church. It was the first time in over 600 years that a pope had resigned the Papacy.
As we look back on this year, we recognize the great act of humility which Benedict performed in resigning for the good of the Church, as he said as he addressed the Cardinals when he resigned. His failing health and lack of strength to carry on the Papacy were reasons given at that time.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., former Vatican Secretary of State, recently said in an interview that Pope Benedict’s decision was also based on the fact that he did not know how he could confront the trip and the necessity of preaching to the estimated one million youth which became three million at World Youth Day in Brazil. Truly, Benedict XVI looked toward the good of the Church, as we all must in our ministry.
This week, we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the day on which normally a Consistory is held naming new Cardinals. Pope Francis recently named 19 new Cardinals, emphasizing his theme of those who work for the poor. Most of the new Cardinals come from impoverished areas of the world and not necessarily from so-called cardinatial sees. In the past, it seemed to be the custom that when someone was appointed to an archdiocese that consistently had a cardinal, the archbishop would then automatically become a cardinal. Pope Francis has not followed this practice. We see this clearly in Haiti, where the two archbishops were not made cardinals, and a bishop from a smaller diocese in that country is being elevated to the College of Cardinals. The same circumstance happened in Italy as well. Our Holy Father will constantly be keeping us guessing in his new initiatives and new ways of doing things.
During this past year, we have also seen an increased interest in the Papacy, due in great part to the personality of Pope Francis, who is open and outreaching and shows great concern for the poor and especially for those among us who are sick. He has refocused the world on the Office of the Papacy as one that points to universal concern for the human person.
The Papacy, indeed, is for Catholics and all Christians to be a center of unity and a spokesman for the values of the Gospel. It is never easy to preach the whole Gospel at any one time. Many times, we concentrate on one or another aspect of our faith and of the consequences of our belief. Pope Francis has been able to capture many elements at the same time: concern for the poor, the sick, the marginalized and so many more. At the same time, the Holy Father looks to revamp the workings of the Curia and especially of the Vatican Bank. Obviously, he has a great overview for the needs of the Church, and his administrative ability, gained as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has served him well in his new ministry as Pope.
As we have entered this new millennium with the call of Blessed John Paul II for the New Evangelization, the Papacy of Pope Francis gives us a unique opportunity to answer this call to each and every Christian and Catholic. First, we should heed the call of conversion because when we are converted to the Lord, we then are empowered to reach out to others to bring them to the faith of Jesus Christ. This, in a nutshell, is what the New Evangelization is all about, most especially reaching out to those who were once practicing Catholics and having a concern for all who might be brought to faith in Jesus Christ.
As the new cardinals put out into the deep of their new responsibilities in the Church, we join them in prayer that they will be successful in reflecting the energy that Pope Francis now brings to the Church and his concern for those who can easily be forgotten. As Lent comes ever nearer, we have an opportunity now to consider how we individually will do what Pope Francis has emphasized for us.