I was born and raised in a blue collar Irish Catholic Family in New Jersey. I attended Catholic Grammar and High School and even went on to study at a Catholic College, St. Peter's. But my college experience was different from my earlier education. St. Peter's College was a Jesuit college, and I found the Jesuit order to be among the most progressive Catholic thinkers that I had ever encountered. I have heard this to be the truth in other Jesuit schools as well.
Now maybe this was because I went to college in the early 70s, when the Vietnam War was central on everyone's minds, black people had only recently begun to see segregation disbanding and their voting rights finally being protected in the decade prior, and "anti-establishment" was the buzz word of a generation.
But I remember those years of religious education fondly because my professors, most of them Jesuit priests, taught not from the pulpit of the dogma of religion, but from the understanding of the core fundamental beliefs that bound all of the world's religions together. I came to understand my faith, or should I say doctrine, much better because I understood how it came to be -- both from a historical perspective and that of the theologians who tried to make sense of it.
I hope that the new pope is a progressive Jesuit! I hope that he (since the laws of the church forbid it to be a she) will come into this position with a full understanding of what the word "Catholic" means. The word derives from a Greek word meaning UNIVERSAL, or concerning all humankind. A system of belief that arose under the repressive Roman government and was essentially an underground movement, which eventually offered an open door to people who desired to follow the peaceful and all inclusive teachings of its founder, Jesus.
In the book "Messages from Margaret," the angel Margaret speaks about the creation of religions and states that all of the world's religions originated from the basic teaching that we were all one people. All of mankind was directly united to the Creator. Angels appeared to different prophets so that this singular unifying message could be brought to their tribe, in a language and custom that could be understood. But over time, all of those prophets came to be treated like gods themselves, and rather than religion being universal, it became splintered groups that fought with each other and said that surely God was on "their" side. Clearly things are not much different today.
Certainly this has been the case with the church of my upbringing. The Catholic Church fought the Crusades to wipe out the influence and power of the Islam religion. Later, Catholic Missionaries would travel to foreign lands to convert the "heathen" indigenous people to the Catholic faith -- even if that meant forcing them to abandon their languages, their culture, their beliefs and the peaceful cooperative practices that existed before they were "saved." Such is the case in almost every country of the world and government and churches are still fostering these abuses today.
But what if this pope was different? What if this pope actually looked at the actions of his church throughout history and apologized for them? What if he extended the olive branch to other religions and made an effort to "wage peace"? Clearly if this is something that can not be accomplished by our political leaders, maybe the time has come for our religious leaders -- the representatives of those peaceful prophets of the past -- to speak to each other, and to their flocks, to stop the divisiveness that permeates everything.
And maybe the new pope may want to relax some of the rules and dogma that separate so many people, rather than bringing them together. I have a personal family experience that I wish I had the opportunity to share with him. Some years ago, my brother had a very serious stroke. It left him paralyzed and he spent months in rehab learning to walk, talk and return to some normalcy of life. His faith in God is what he hung onto in those darkest hours and he was filled with gratitude when he was finally well enough to leave the facility, and although he had been estranged from the Catholic Church he started to go back to Sunday Mass and even became a communicant (someone who brings the sacrament of Holy Communion to the sick) and returned to that rehab center to become a living example of hope and faith to others who were in the position he had once been in. His ministry was a great success and the patients and facility loved him. That was until someone brought to the attention of the parish that he attended that he was a gay. He was immediately relieved of his role as a communicant and barred from ministering at the facility. Today, my brother is a happy member of a very inclusive Episcopalian Church where he and his partner are able to be openly gay and loved for who they are.
Maybe the new pope will see situations like this in a different light. Maybe he will question, just as a major portion of his followers do, why their members can't be gay, why their priests can't be women or married, why abortion is outlawed and yet so is birth control. Maybe the new pope will realize that to be universal, the church needs to embrace differences and expand love rather than embracing limiting and separatist beliefs.
Maybe the new pope will look back at the origins of the word that describes the meaning of what his church is meant to represent -- and will decide to truly become a Catholic.