Pope Francis, the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church, has taken on a mammoth task. His flock of more than 1 billion members is spread around the world. In some countries, religious persecution is a serious challenge. Muslim countries often ban or even punish Christians who seek to spread the faith. Christian minorities in countries such as India, China, and Syria, also need to tread carefully to avoid persecution.
Then there’s the Vatican’s central administration, which is – according to reports – plagued by feuds and corruption. Finding a way to bring entrenched bureaucracy to heel may not be easy. Also, many feel that the clergy sex abuse scandal is still unresolved.
If these and the other tasks facing the pontiff were truly the responsibility of one human being alone, the burden would be unbearable. But popes have shown time and time again their reliance on the sustaining power of prayer and their devotion to God.
Mary Baker Eddy, who was ever conscious of religious issues in her own time, noted with sympathy the passing of Pope Leo XIII. She also wrote: “What we love determines what we are. I love the prosperity of Zion, be it promoted by Catholic, by Protestant, or by Christian Science, which anoints with Truth, opening the eyes of the blind and healing the sick” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 270).
This clear-eyed view of the church and a commitment to healing are needed as the new pope faces the clergy abuse scandal, strives to untangle the Vatican bureaucracy, and addresses needs in Africa and Asia, where the church is rapidly growing. He will also have to provide new inspiration to churches in the West where the number of members is declining.
To help him – and his colleagues – in this task, one can offer the guidance the Apostle Paul gave to the Corinthians when he told them to seek out and to cherish “spiritual gifts” (see I Corinthians 12:4-11). He wrote, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” Among the gifts he listed are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and discernment.
With these gifts the pope and his representatives will see how best to proceed in dealing with the challenges facing the church and its parishioners worldwide. Wise, discerning choices will protect those in danger from religious extremists, and lead the Vatican to timely and intelligent choices.
Each pope has brought to his task a deep faith in God and the conviction that God will sustain the church through whatever trials it faces. The spiritual gifts that come to all who love God and seek to serve Him with their whole hearts will strengthen and sustain Pope Francis as he takes up his myriad tasks.