His Church is assailed on all sides, its role in the modern world in question like never before. Is Pope Francis the man to meet the challenge?
The central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica was empty, there were no crowds in the square below. Instead, beneath the vast cavernousness of the basilica itself, a lone figure stood, the white of his papal vestments standing out starkly against the rich reds and golds of the interior.
The traditional theatre of the Urbi et Orbi Easter message had been turned on its head as Pope Francis addressed the world in the first frightening weeks of the coronavirus crisis in Europe. In Italy the death toll would top 20,000 the following day, and he had a powerful message, saying “indifference, self-centeredness, division and forgetfulness… seem to prevail when fear and death overwhelm us”.
The resurrection of Christ is “a different ‘contagion’”, he said. “It is the contagion of hope.” Hope was exactly what many were looking to him for at that moment. His special benediction two weeks before, taking place in an ominously dark, rain-lashed St Peter’s Square, had taken the theme of Jesus’ calming of the storm. As the crisis grew, he appeared like a sturdy mast in a terrifying tempest.
That storm has hardly abated in the intervening 12 months. As the globe remains in the grip of the coronavirus crisis, the institution this Pope of the pandemic leads is also in turmoil, in fact, the Catholic Church struggling under the conflicting pressures of adapting to a changing world, ultimately seeing Francis’ role and authority questioned by his own priests…
The New European, 25 March 2021, pp. 4-5.