By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published March 14, 2013
As the three of us walked back up the hill to the North American College in Rome where I am staying, after a late evening pizza, I mentioned to Father Luke Ballman and Matthew Dalrymple (our Atlanta seminarian at the college) that I had to come up with a topic for my column for The Georgia Bulletin this week. They both suggested that I could write about them! I told them that many people in the Archdiocese already had seen and heard about them!
As we chuckled at their recommendation and at my response, it became clear to me that what most everyone really wants to know about this week is the one who will appear on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica as our new Pope. In fact the entire world is interested in knowing about this still unknown priest—even people who are not themselves Catholics or may not believe in what the Church teaches.
The Roman Pontiff is an important world personality—and not merely for those of us who confess the Catholic faith. In his absence, the world lacks that person who speaks definitively for Catholicism. Certainly the Church’s mission, its worship, its teachings go on uninterrupted during these days of the “sede vacante” (the interim period between popes), but this is not a normal time for the Church—we are without the voice and the guidance of the one who gathers us together and unites us as a single family of believers in Christ. So we are all anxious to know the identity of the individual who will assume that role and be entrusted with that responsibility in the Church.
While modern technology makes it possible for people the world over to express their opinions about all the many possible candidates and to weigh in on the issue of the qualities needed in a new pope, we are all still anxiously waiting to learn of his identity. Today we all certainly know much more about the office of pope from the sheer volume of news stories and media reports. People who have never been to Rome already have access to vivid televised images of the residence and offices that the pope occupies. The most recent pontiffs have traveled extensively throughout the world, and millions of people have been in their presence at Masses and other public events within their own nations. So this generation of citizens of the world has grown up with a much closer connection with the Bishop of Rome. We’ve all seen images of the popes as they have aged, as they have encountered people, and as they have gone about their tasks of leadership and governance and prayer.
Once the new Pontiff appears on the loggia of St. Peter’s and his identity is known, he will live in the scorching light of public scrutiny. His every move and statement will be weighed by those who follow him faithfully as well as by those who might be inclined to be more skeptical given the age in which we live and the challenges that the Church faces in that world. Nonetheless everyone is anxious for a new pope to be selected and to begin the responsibility of being Peter in the Church in 2013.
I already pray for that man—whoever he might be—that he will enjoy the strength of the prayers of all of the faithful, the confidence and trust of all of his colleagues in ministry, the love and loyalty of the College of Bishops, and the forbearance of those whose expectations might be a bit too lofty for any one person ever to satisfy. We will soon know his name and have instant information on his academic background, his national origin, his previous ministerial experiences and even his early childhood events. What we won’t know at that moment is how the Holy Spirit will use him to shepherd the entire Church in the months and years ahead—for that we will just have to wait even longer than this interim time which we are now enduring until he is chosen.