The words Habemus Papam are Latin for “we have a pope.” They were uttered today at St. Peter’s Basilica before thousands of onlookers thronging to see the announcement of a new supreme pontiff for the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was introduced as Pope Francis I to the masses in attendance and those watching around the world. This Argentine priest will now have the responsibility to lead the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics as he assumes this unique office.
How are protestant Christians who believe in accord with a tradition of those who rebelled against Rome and count many aspects of traditional Roman theology as troubling, if not heretical? Let’s begin with that which we can affirm and support. By all appearances, Pope Francis I is a humble servant of the people, born into a working-class family, who’s noted for riding public transportation and cooking his own meals. He turned down the life in a palace for a small apartment. He is known for washing the feet of the homeless and caring for the widow and orphan. As a priest, when many of his brother Jesuits sought to move away from parishes and embrace liberation theology, he insisted on traditional theology. He’s been a champion of the unborn and taken other traditional Catholic moral stands that have earned the ire of many in his native Argentina.
Despite our deep theological divide, protestants do share many ideals with Roman Catholics. We both champion the idea — the truth — that there are reliable standards of right and wrong to which all institutions, including government, must adhere. We stand together in proclaiming that all human life has equal dignity and worth. And we stand together in defending the traditional and time-honored conception of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
We should be humble as this man has shown humility. We should pray for him. We should pray that he would maintain and strengthen the Catholic church’s stances on the dignity of life, the definition of marriage, and other important societal issues. We should pray that he would be able to effect change in the Catholic church with regard to the abuse of children that has occurred and, in large part, gone unchecked. We should pray that he would maintain the cause of the downtrodden, widow, and orphan.
In addition to these things we should also be bold in praying for his eyes to be opened to the full truth of God’s word. We should pray for Catholics around the world to see the reality of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. We should pray for the Reformation to continue to press upon those in the Roman Church the biblical gospel. I hope that this new pope loves Jesus more than he does Rome, and that despite Rome’s doctrine this may be true of many Catholics.
At the same time as we pray for our Roman Catholic friends and family along with the new pope, we should pray for ourselves that we would not be content and complacent but that we would be semper reformanda (always reforming). Yes, we have major theological differences. Justification by faith plus works, transubstantiation, veneration of Mary and Saints, indulgences, etc…all Roman Catholic doctrines, all serious errors and some heresies. But can we still learn from a humble example? When was the last time you cared for someone less fortunate? Took a courageous stand for truth knowing it would cost you popularity and possibly friends? Served the broken and scattered?
Protestants may not have a ‘pope’ in the classical sense of the word. But ‘pope’ is really just Latin for ‘father’ or ‘papa’. So, in a real sense, all protestants who see the Catholic world rejoicing over the election of a new pontiff to fill the role of leader of their Church, can rejoice as well. Do we rejoice over Pope Francis I? No, we rejoice over someone so infinitely better than any human representative of God could ever be! We can exclaim in Latin, “Habemus Papam! – We have a Father!” He’s the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He’s our Father through adoption as the children of God because of our faith in His Son. The Vatican scene is nothing compared to the throngs of the redeemed who will attend not the inauguration of a human priest in a man-made city chosen by cardinal conclave; but the Prophet, Priest, and King chosen by the conclave of the Trinity to reign eternally on the new earth fashioned by God himself!
– Pastor Kenny