Dear friends, 
The world waited anxiously, like the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, as the curtain on the balcony ruffled and Cardinal Tauran walked out to pronounce, “Habemus Papam” — “We have a pope.” U.S. news correspondents, clearly outsiders at the scene, struggled to hear the name of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Through Italian colleagues they learned that the new pope had chosen the name Francis, connecting himself to the medieval saint whose life of self-sacrifice and care of the poor inspired reform in the church. Hope arose in the hearts of those who recognize that the days of a triumphalist church are over, and there is hope for leadership that is open to the needs and opportunities of this day, not yesteryear. If only he can walk in the footsteps of St. Francis to lead the Church of Rome! 

As the new pope asked for prayer, a few facts about him had already begun to emerge: Pope Francis is a Jesuit. He was a runner-up in the 2005 conclave. He has lived his entire life in Argentina. Even as a cardinal, he preferred to ride the bus, cooks his own food, and live simply — as “a regular guy.” The man’s legacy demonstrates genuine humility in his personal daily life and in his affections, an unassuming nature, a friend of drug-addicts and an advocate of the poor.

Then, notice must be taken of the criticism leveled at him for certain political involvements and the appearance to some that he was not sufficiently active as an advocate for justice, especially for “the disappeared” during the “Dirty War.” And it must be acknowledged, that while his personal piety and his concern for the poor would suggest a new emphasis on social justice, the choice of Bergoglio as pope was in many ways a very conventional one, especially for protection of conservative doctrinal positions of controversy today — like contraception, abortion, the ordination of women, and LGBT realities — that seem to trump social and economic concerns. As the world gets to know the man who will serve as the uppermost religious authority to more than a billion Catholics, spiritual leaders and laypeople around the world are already adjusting their hopes, prayers, and expectations for the papacy. 
Thomas Cahill has established himself as a lay theologian and one of our most perceptive observers of historical patterns. We are pleased that he is an advisor and a frequent contributor to At the Threshold. A few short days ago, while the election was pending, The Wall Street Journal asked him to give them a short piece on the sort of man the new pope should be. He reports, “…Once they saw what I had written, they refused to print it. Though they gave no reason, I’m sure my piece offended their vulture capitalism. Whether the new pope will fulfill my requirements for him, only time will tell.”   

We are pleased to offer you his thoughts.

The Next Pope

By Thomas Cahill, author of the Hinges of History, including How the Irish Saved Civilization (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), and Pope John XXIII (Penguin)

Thomas Cahill

Thomas Cahill

The next pope should be a Christian, that is, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Most popes have not been that, especially over the past millennium and more. Indeed, the idea of a Christian pope takes us so far from the historical norm that we must completely replace the images in our head with startling new pictures.

A real Christian would not wear special clothes nor would he live in a palace. Jesus had neither bank account nor art collection. He didn’t even have a home to call his own, for as he said to one inquiring contemporary, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “The Son of Man” was Jesus’s usual description of himself. It was not intended as an exalted description nor even as a special designation. A better translation might be “Humanity’s Child,” in other words, a plain human being. The new pope would live among the poor, as Jesus did, perhaps even be homeless on occasion.

The new pope would not enjoy being addressed by special titles, nor would he wish to be called “pope” (or “papa”). Gregory the Great, elected bishop of Rome toward the end of the sixth century, was one of the few truly great popes. He refused to be called “pope,” saying “Away with these words that increase vanity and weaken love!” A bishop, insisted Gregory, should be ever “a minister, not a master,” who tries “to subdue himself, not his brothers and sisters.” The only title Gregory would accept was “Servant of God’s Servants.” Read More…

By Imam Yahya Hendi

Imam Yahya Hendi

Imam Yahya Hendi

My catholic sisters and brothers,

As-Salamu ‘Alaikum,

Let me take this moment to congratulate you and the world, including that of Islam for Pope Francis I. It is a great moment in our history and I am sure the future is full of hope.

Watching him talking and praying as he appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, I was deeply touched by his self-effacing humility that our religions value highly. I was also profoundly moved by his great simplicity, amazing smile, telling a joke, and asking people to pray for him, all of which, spoke of his sense of hope, peacefulness and of deep-rooted faith in the Living God.

His remarkable choice of the name Francis, evoking the saint of Assisi and his commitment to the poor, is just an incredible message of hope for the faithful and those who believe that our religions main fight is that of social justice and to give a voice for the voiceless.

His selection as the Pope emerging from a Jesuit background is with no doubt, at least in my mind, an affirmation of the Church’s transformation and its commitment to catering for the soul and the mind of the whole person with interest in interfaith dialogue and peace building with other religions and nations. I pray for more dialogue between Muslims and Catholics, a dialogue that will help build more bridges and better relations.

Let me be honest and say that I love him more for the fact that he is known for his love of animals, including birds, and for asking people to pray for him.

May God bless those led by the Holy father, Georgetown University and the world at large.

My best prayers.

Imam Yahya Hendi

Imam Yahya Hendi is the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, where he teaches a popular course called Inter-religious Encounter. Imam Hendi is also a Public Policy Conflict Resolution Fellow of the Center for Dispute Resolution of the University of Maryland School of Law and the Maryland Judiciary’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office.

As of Wednesday, the black smoke billowing from Sistine Chapel signals the world that a new pope has not yet been chosen.

By  and , NY Times

VATICAN CITY — Black smoke billowed from a makeshift copper chimney atop the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday, signaling that the 115 cardinals of the Catholic Church eligible to vote for a new pope had again failed to muster majority support for a successor to Benedict XVI and that balloting would continue until they do.

A first vote ended inconclusively on Tuesday, and the inky black smoke a day later indicated continuing divisions in two subsequent ballots on Wednesday among the cardinals over what kind of pope they want to confront the pressing, sometimes conflicting, demands for change after years of scandal.

“It’s more or less what we expected,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said of the first three ballots. In relatively recent times, he said. only Pope Pius XII, whose papacy spanned World War II and lasted from 1939 to 1958, had been chosen on the third ballot.

Read more at the New York Times.


By Jon O’Brien

Jon O'Brien, President of Catholics for Choice

Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice

Every time there’s a papal election, Catholics and non-Catholics alike turn their eyes to Rome, and sometimes wonder why they do so. Those who are not Catholic, and those who are, may feel alienated by what they hear from the Vatican when a pope is firmly in place, so why pay attention to cardinals jockeying (secretly) for power? The reason is that the person who sits on the Throne of St. Peter matters. Though he may reside in tiny Vatican City, the pope and his representatives are in nearly everyone’s backyard: through the global reach of Catholic healthcare, a privileged role at the United Nations, as the head of a church a billion strong, and because what he says generally makes the papers. And though we don’t have a vote in the conclave, when the white smoke billows out of the Sistine Chapel, we all have a stake in the result.

For example, Catholic healthcare provides approximately 25 percent of all AIDS care worldwide. Here you can see some of the best of Catholic values in practice, but unfortunately they are often held back by some of the hierarchy’s worst ideas. As pretty much everyone knows, doctors, nurses, and counselors at Catholic facilities are often forbidden to distribute condoms as part of HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment programs. So despite the best intentions of healthcare providers, and notwithstanding the fact that the money used for these programs comes from many people who absolutely know condoms are critical in the fight against AIDS, patients just can’t get what they need because the Vatican bans condoms. Read More…