Last Wednesday, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary’s refectory was electric with the energy of an announcement from Rome. I stood in the room with our seminarians, their professors and our staff as white smoke poured from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. When the announcement of the name of the new Holy Father was made, none of us were sure who it was. The applause for Pope Francis, who emerged shyly onto the loggia above St. Peter’s square, was deafening.
I don’t know Pope Francis at all. I have never met him and so like our seminarians and like most of the Archdiocese of Denver, I wondered what to expect when he began his greeting.
I was struck by the humanity of Pope Francis. I was struck even more by his serenity, his humility, and by the simplicity of his words to the waiting world. The Church was beginning, he said: a “journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity. “
Pope Francis took his first opportunity as pope to ask that we love one another and pray for one another. He asked us to commit to journeying toward Christ as brothers and sisters in the Lord. This commitment is the hallmark of the Holy Father’s thought.
In 2003 Pope Francis wrote that the “drama of the world today is the result of not only the absence of God, but the absence of humankind.” We have lost, said Pope Francis, our sense of “human destiny and identity.”
Pope Francis states that the contemporary world has become a “supermarket culture—where offers are made to everyone to hush the clamoring in their hearts.” We’ve become consumers, lulled by media and comfort into the “torpor of life,” which stops asking about the universe and our place in it. We’ve lost a sense of wonder at the world, he notes, and have lost the “capacity to explain the fundamental needs that dwell in the human heart.”
The need of the human heart, explains Pope Francis, is a relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship is our destiny. It is also the reason why Pope Francis encourages us to commit to loving one another as brothers and sisters. If we want a relationship with Christ, Pope Francis declares that “the only adequate method for reaching true knowledge is to live together a vivid companionship.” In the companionship of the Church—in our fraternity—“in the signs and witness of others,” we will come to know Jesus Christ in faith.
Pope Francis has said that we are pilgrims, journeying together toward Jesus Christ. Christ is our destiny and in the presence of the Church, he is our companion. Today we rejoice at the gift of Pope Francis, who has been called to lead the Church into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
In one of his first acts Pope Francis prayed for Pope Emeritus Benedict, then asked our prayers for him, and then he blessed us. Let us continue to keep him in our fervent prayers and heed his words—that we might love another and that in our love for one another we might discover the love that Jesus Christ has for each of us.