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Welcome to an ecumenically open Jesuit surprise

22 March 2013

by Simon Caldwell


Changes in Rome: cardinals on the balcony of St Peter's Basilica after the conclave

Changes in Rome: cardinals on the balcony of St Peter's Basilica after the conclave

ALL Christians should welcome the election of Pope Francis, and pray for him, a senior Church of England bishop has said. The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, predicted that the Argentinian pontiff would usher in a "different style" of papacy, with a greater emphasis on the position of the bishop as a pastor.

Bishop Hill, chairman of the Council for Christian Unity and a member of ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission), said: "His reputation for pastoral care and simplicity, following St Francis, as well as his concern for economic justice, will endear him to Anglicans throughout the world, not least our own Archbishop Justin."

The "pastoral stress" of the new Pope's ministry pointed to a "fundamental theological principle", Bishop Hill said. "The universal Primate, whom some Anglicans and many other Christians are beginning to recognise, is still the bishop of a local church, a bishop of the Church, not a single bishop over the Church. But the task before Pope Francis is immense. All Christians should pray for him."

The Archbishop of Canterbury also wished Pope Francis "every blessing in the enormous responsibilities that he has assumed". He called the new pontiff "a compassionate pastor of real stature, who has served the poor in Latin America, and whose simplicity and holiness of life is remarkable".

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said that the election of the new Pope was "a turning point in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. Today, the vast majority of Christians live in the Global South. The growth of Christianity in the South is likely to continue. It is in this context that we will move forward, working together."

The Anglican Bishop of Argentina and a former Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, the Rt Revd Greg Venables, described Cardinal Bergoglio's election as "an inspired choice". "Many are asking me what he is really like," he said. "He is much more of a Christian, Christ-centred and Spirit-filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written." He told the Anglican Communion News Service: "He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool, and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary."

An Episcopalian priest in Buenos Aires, the Revd Thomas Mansella, said: "He is very ecumenical - especially with us Anglicans - and a man of prayer and great spirituality. He has spoken frequently for social justice. But, because he has condemned the current Argentinian official corruption, he is not liked by the powers that be. So, perhaps by strong influence, he will be a force to clean up the Roman curia."

In the United States, the Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, said that the Episcopal Church would pray for the new Bishop of Rome, "and for the possibility of constructive dialogue and co-operation between our Churches".

It has emerged that many Roman Catholic bishops in the UK knew little about Pope Francis before his election on 14 March. Those who did not recognise the name of the Cardinal include the Archbishop of Southwark and vice-president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, the Most Revd Peter Smith. "When the words came, I, like many others, then spent some moments working out who had been chosen," he said.

A member of the British Province of the Society of Jesus, Fr Chris Chatteris, expressed his surprise that a member of his order had been elected Pope. "History shows that the relationship between Jesuits and pope has often been a rocky one," he said. "In the 18th century, Pope Clement XIV went as far as suppressing the Jesuit order. It was this tricky history that gave rise to the received wisdom that there would never be a Jesuit Pope. But now there is."

The Roman Catholic press echoed the surprise at the election of Cardinal Bergoglio. The editor of The Catholic Herald, Luke Coppen, admitted: "Like other commentators, we failed to notice Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's emergence as a leading candidate at this year's conclave: he was the very last name on our long list of 'other possible papabili'."

The editor of The Tablet, Catherine Pepinster, used her editorial last week to call for a new style of papacy, principally with power decentralised. "The Pope is not the Church; nor is the Vatican a head office," she wrote. "St Peter was not the only Apostle, nor did his wishes always prevail.

"Pope Francis has to be a teacher and confirmer of the faith, but also a leader who must never again let the institutional machinery that surrounds him distract attention from the message he has to preach."

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