What a first day Pope Francis has had! Every signal he has sent thus far shows that this priest intends something new for the Catholic Church. It feels once again that a pope is about to let fresh air run through every aspect of the Church. He may transform its grinding politics, financial imbroglios and leadership vacuum. He has the ability to deal directly with the serious sins of the recent past and clean house. Let the wind blow!
And what a mensch he is! After they elected him Roman Pontiff, he stood to greet each of the cardinals, one by one, rather than sit in an ornate chair to receive their kisses. Offered a fancy papal-appropriate pectoral cross to adorn his chest before facing the world, he said no thanks, I'll stick with what I already have on. And then he stood there at the balcony and simply said, "Good evening." And led the crowd in the Lord's Prayer.
Then, he took the bus back, together with the other cardinals, to the dormitory and went to sleep. This morning he went to the hotel where he'd been staying in Rome in order to settle his bill.
I have hope. I didn't just a week ago. I've been on television half a dozen times in recent weeks talking about the quitting of Pope Benedict XVI and how it relates to the famous "pope who quit" 700 years ago. I have suggested that there is a lot to clean up in the Vatican curia and in the Church writ large and that, sadly, the Pope Emeritus failed to do it. I thought that perhaps the very usefulness of the papacy had come to an end.
Now, I have hope. Our new pope is the first to take the name Francesco, for Italy's patron saint, Saint Francis of Assisi. There has been no greater example of gospel living in history than the little poor man from Assisi. Why has it taken this long for a pope to model himself after such an example? May it continue.
All the signs thus far point to Pope Francis being, perhaps one day a saint, but at least for now something just as good: This guy is a mensch!
Jon M. Sweeney is the author of 'The Pope Who Quit,' and co-author, with his wife, Michal Woll, of the forthcoming, 'Mixed-Up Love: Relationships, Family, and Religious Identity in the 21st Century' (October, Jericho Books).