In another addition to the series of unique stories added to Pope Francis’s tenure, there is going to be a canonization of not one, but two living popes. From a historical standpoint, the past twenty years have seen many new changes to the Catholic church, the most radical being the election of Pope Francis. As the first non European pope in 1,000 years and the first pope from the New World, Francis has brought more focus to the church than it has had in decades. As a symbol, he said he represents hope for a younger generation who have been burned by the controversies the church has faced as of late. But with all of this newfound admiration and interest in the Church, what do we know about it and what is the process of ascending the hierarchy? As we learn more about the new frontiers ahead, it is important to remember the past and those foundations that shaped us, and the Catholic church is an integral part of world history that will always be relevant.
For thousands of years, mankind has had a sense of spirituality. Going back to African tribes and continuing through modern day religion, religion has shaped the world, affecting everyone, even the non-religious. The Catholic church is arguably one of the oldest and largest religious institutions. It was founded by Jesus’ disciple Peter, and Peter was the first Pope.
But how does one become the pope? It is not as simple as declaring for candidacy. There are three requirements: be a male, be a Catholic, and be a cardinal. To become a cardinal, one must be a bishop, and to become a bishop, one must be a priest. To become a Catholic priest, one must be ordained and go through seminary school.
There are approximately 400,000 priests, but only 5,000 bishops, which makes becoming a bishop difficult. The congress of bishops must approve each new bishop appointment, and from there, the pope must approve him as well.
Once one is a bishop, the only way to become a cardinal is by being appointed by the pope. When a pope dies or steps down, all 200 voting cardinals come to Vatican City and vote on which cardinal will become the next pope. The new pope must be agreed upon by two-thirds of the cardinals.
At the end of February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI resigned due to health concerns and his battle with multiple sclerosis. In March of the same year, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio traveled to The Vatican to elect a new pope.
“Pope Francis [as a cardinal] reluctantly would come to Rome,” said Reverend Monsignor Morris, a priest at The Pontifical College Josephinum. “He was very public in wanting to stay away from the reality of Rome.”
One especially strange situation regarding this group of voting cardinals, or conclave, was the former Pope, Benedict XVI, is still alive. This is the first time this has happened in nearly 600 years.
“We do not have two popes,” Morris said. He went on to emphasize that Pope Francis is the only pope, and Catholics should go so far as to treat Benedict XVI as being deceased in relation to the church.
On March 19, 2013, Cardinal Bergoglio was elected the 226th pope.
Upon election, Bergoglio assumed the name Francis. Pope Francis is the first pope not only to come from Latin America, but from the new world and the Eastern Hemisphere.
“There was a great deal of energy leading up to the conclave about a need to do things differently and have someone who is an outsider on a number of levels. Pope Francis brings a totally different interaction with the church,” Morris said.
Since his election, Pope Francis has taken a different approach compared to his predecessors.
When talking to priests and nuns earlier this year, Francis I said, “It hurts me when I see a priest or a nun with the latest model car. You can’t do this. Cars are necessary. But take a more humble one. Think of how many children die of hunger and dedicate the savings to them.”
Pope Francis has chosen not to live in the papal residence and instead lives in an apartment. He has opted for a crucifix made of iron and a ring made of plated silver instead of gold.
In January of 2014, if Catholics didn’t have enough to be excited about, Time Magazine announced Pope Francis as the Time Magazine Person of the Year. The award is usually given to someone who has created vast amounts of change for the betterment of the world.
One thing Time Magazine points to as to why Pope Francis won Person of the Year over other famous figures like Hillary Clinton and Edward Snowden was, in his short time as the head of the Church, he has already impacted the world.
“He already has changed the image of the church,” Morris said. “He’s the head of the Catholic Church, and on one level he only affects Catholics, yet clearly other people are interested in who he is.”
Articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times have described the Pope as “radical.”
“As the media often does, they kind of run ahead of themselves,” Morris said. “He’s not radically different.”
Morris went on to say the approach Francis is taking is different regarding his message, specifically his emphasis on love.
“Whereas Pope Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II were very clear and forceful in those issues that may have obscured that message of love, Francis is focusing on that message of love,” he said.
According to Time Magazine, words Time use to describe Pope Francis include charismatic, energetic, humble and loving.
Time quoted Francis as saying he wants a “battlefield hospital church” to help those in trouble, those who are lonely and those who need comfort throughout the world.
Another large factor for Time is the Pope’s recognition, care and dedication to helping the poor. The name he chose, ‘Francis,’ comes from St. Francis of Assisi, who was also very dedicated to the poor.
Third, Time magazine cited the amount of hope and inspiration Pope Francis has spread. He had been pope for just nine months of the 2013 year, which is a disadvantage compared to those who have been in the public eye since the beginning of the year. They say this may be another testament to his works.
A final reason Time Magazine chose Pope Francis was what he has said regarding controversial issues the Catholics have recently faced.
When speaking about homosexuality, Francis answered by saying, “Who am I to judge?”
This comment, along with other similar comments about controversial issues, have drawn a small portion of criticism from conservative members of the church.
“Some think the church is more flexible in her teachings, and that’s not going to happen. As [Pope Francis I] himself has said, he can’t change these things,” Morris said.
Francis will continue to serve until the end of his life or until he steps down; the former is much more likely, seeing as only six popes out of two hundred and sixty six popes have resigned.
While the Catholic Liberals push him to make changes to doctrine, the Conservative Catholics think he has gone far enough, if not too far, as it is.
Morris said, “He is having an impact, and people are looking to the church.”
Whichever course he takes, radical, conservative or somewhere in the middle, the world’s eyes are on him.