11 December 2019, The Tablet

Francis’ rocky road to Rome

Francis’ rocky road to Rome

Pope Francis pictured in Rome earlier this month.
PA/ABACAPRESS.COM, Eric Vandeville


Pope Francis, who will be 83 on 17 December, may be concerned at the scale of the opposition he is facing as he charts a new pathway for the Church. But a former auxiliary of Westminster and Bishop of Middlesbrough is sure that bitterness and hostility will not deflect him from his course


“I wouldn’t say that I’ve learnt from all my mistakes: no, I think I didn’t learn from some of them because I’m stubborn, and it isn’t easy to learn. But I have learned from many mistakes, and that did me good, it did me good.”

“We must never tire of going to ask for forgiveness. You may feel ashamed to tell your sins, but as our mothers and grandmothers used to say, it is better to be red once than yellow a thousand times. We blush once but then our sins are forgiven and we go forward.”

“I always give this advice to newly weds: ‘Argue as much as you like. If the plates fly, let them. But never end the day without making peace. Never.’”

No prizes for guessing the provenance of these quotations. They all have the unmistakable earthiness and directness that identify them as coming from Pope Francis. Has this kind of plain speaking been common in papal ranks? The honest answer is surely a resounding: No.

Pope Francis has now been among us for six-and-a-half years. He will be 83 on 17 December and his health is what you would expect of a man of his age. We can probably expect only a few more years in which to enjoy his life-­enhancing ministry, either because of his death, or, perhaps more likely, his resignation, after the admirable pattern of his predecessor. This growing realisation nudges many of us into acute awareness of the gift from God we have been given in this unprecedented papacy.

Francis’ first words to us on the night of his election were buona sera (“good evening”): the kind of cheerful, informal greeting you might more usually expect to exchange with a ­neighbour. And he concluded those words of introduction with: “Please pray for me” – a familiar request from one person of faith to another, but much less common on the lips of a new Pope.

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