Habemus papam. “We have a pope.”
Those Latin words and their translation were uttered many times over the past few days. On television, in the Vatican, in print and online, the words were repeated as the leaders of the Catholic Church gathered, bathed in secrecy and tradition. As white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel chimney, the world knew a new leader has been chosen on the second day of the papal conclave on the fifth vote.
While traditions are an important part of faith in the Catholic Church and other religions, so are reforms and transparency. Creating a church more receptive and open to the changing needs of its followers is crucial to remaining a viable institution. The world’s 1.2 billion Catholics have faced a crisis of faith in recent years, with sex-abuse allegations, reports of misuse of Vatican funds and a general loss of interest or support by many congregants.
We look forward to a fresh perspective with the installation Wednesday of Argentine Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis I. With a background as a Jesuit priest with a focus on charity and faith — eschewing the normal pomp and prestige of his predecessors serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires and instead being a voice for the people — Pope Francis offers the church an opportunity to be more attuned to its followers.
In a display of his humble lifestyle and perhaps of things to come, the day after being named pope, Francis returned to the hotel where he stayed during conclave in a simple, white cassock, paid his bill and retrieved his own luggage.
Although called a surprise choice by some, mostly because of his age — 76 — local Catholic leaders agree Pope Francis could offer a calming voice of change amid the turmoil the church faces.
The Rev. David Mickiewicz, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Oneonta, said, “His choice signals a real change about how the papacy is run.”
And the Rev. John Rosson, pastor of St. Mary’s Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church in Cooperstown, called the selection “a sensational, spectacular, stunning choice to lead the church. … This is a global moment for a global church. It’s a time of tremendous hope.”
In this moment of hope, the Catholic Church should consider taking another Latin phrase to heart: Carpe diem. “Seize the day.” Leaders should take the opportunity of a new papacy to bring light to some of the church’s financial workings, to aid to those who need it most, to take a more reform-minded approach to the world and to renew trust among the faithful.