By Allen Polk Hemphill
The new pope seems like Jerry Brown.
Both are minimalists — riding the bus, living frugally, cooking their own meals in austere apartments. The new pope is wearing his own cross instead of the heavily bejeweled cross usually worn. (As archbishop, he often rode the bus instead of the limousine available to him, and those who wanted to have an audience with him knew where to find him.)
The pope and Jerry Brown both studied as Jesuits.
My knowledge of Catholicism — as a child, raised Episcopalian — was in Catholic military boarding schools, and the Sisters of Divine Providence, all of which were educational, intellectual, strict, and frugal. We had priests, and there was not a hint of misbehavior.
(The misbehavior was all on the part of a certain Episcopalian whose “Why?” echoed daily in the Catechism class. His question usually brought a gentle “God works in mysterious ways” rejoinder.)
It was not until I went to Spain as a young midshipman that it dawned on me that there might be some disconnect between the church and the poor. Because I love massive European church architecture, in my first port call, Vigo, Spain, I sought out such a church.
It happened on some religious holiday or other, which is immaterial, but out of this massive church came a procession of hundreds, and six big men carrying a large solid, obviously heavy silver statue of the Virgin Mary.
On the very steps of this beautiful cathedral were beggars asking for alms. This resulted in cognitive dissonance for me. The delta between the gilded church and the poor that the leader of that church had ordered his people to help was shocking.
I have great hope that the new pope can sell off just a few of the Renaissance paintings that absolutely clog the catacombs of the Vatican. I can’t say the paintings are unseen because I saw some of them on a PBS special a few years ago.
So, we have a new pope who lived in a sparse apartment in Argentina, and now he lives in the second largest palace in the world — 1,400 rooms — second only to the palace of the Dali Lama I am told.
Obviously, the new pope doesn’t want to rent out rooms and give the proceeds to the poor. At 76 he must realize that the next pope is close around the corner, and the next pope doesn’t want to evict all the renters.
On Feb. 8 on my daily blog, I wrote:
“It was cold and rainy last night.
The homeless shivered outside in the cold rain.
The churches were warm, dry — and VACANT!
As “The People’s Pope” it would be nice to see if he can’t nudge the Vatican toward humility.
The Vatican can use it.
Hey, I am no radical...but movement in the right direction would be welcome.
Reach Hemphill at firstname.lastname@example.org.