The God Squad: From across faiths, a blessing for the pope

The good news is that I did not swear an oath of secrecy. The bad news is that I don't know anything about what went on in the Sistine Chapel and I'm not Catholic. However, my best friend is a priest and I remember tenderly joking with Father Tom Hartman that if he was ever elected pope, he would choose as his pope name Pope John Paul George Ringo.

Seriously, as a Jew I love the Catholic Church, and I offer my joyous blessings with a full heart and hopeful thoughts to the new pontiff, Pope Francis, from Buenos Aires.

My first hope is that the new pope will awaken every morning and read the Bible before he reads the newspapers. People who are not Catholic and not religious and not pro-life are now offering advice to the new pope and the old church. That advice boils down to this: "Give up everything you believe and make what the church thinks is true indistinguishable from what trendy secularists think is true."

Now, secularists may be right or they may be wrong, but it's not the sacred mission of the church to replace 2,000-year-old beliefs. So what I pray is that Pope Francis loves tradition not because it's old but because it's true. Old practices that are true but unpopular need to be preserved. Old practices that are just old and not true need to be let go. The only way to distinguish between them is to have a firm grasp of eternal truth. This is the hardest task. Therefore, I hope the new pope is a wise man.

I also hope he will be merciless in bringing to justice those priests who abused children. Some of this work has already been done, but the job is not finished, and what has been done came too late to save the good name of the church. This new beginning provides the perfect opportunity to begin again the work of building trust.

I've defended the Catholic Church during this dark time of shame by pointing to the good works of the vast majority of priests. I've reminded people on many occasions that an accusation is not a conviction, and that extreme care needs to be taken so as not to ruin good names with unfounded accusations. Still, I was more than deeply saddened by revelations of child abuse; I was outraged. What I pray for most is that this new pontiff will make the church clean once again.

I also pray that Pope Francis is a man who loves people as much as he loves God. It's easier to love God, but people need it more. I hope above all else that he's a loving man.

I pray that Pope Francis has dear friends who are not of his faith, not of his race and not of his gender. The only way to feel the pain of those who are not exactly like you is to love someone who's not exactly like you. Loving Tommy has taught me this. There may be only one true way up the mountain to God, but there are many climbers and they all need encouragement and support. I hope the new pontiff is a climber who can see the other side of the mountain.

What I believe is that God's promise to Abraham to "multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore" (Gen. 22:17) has come true, but when you add more than a billion Catholics to the existing 2 billion Protestants and Muslims worldwide, that's a lot of stars and sand. What this means is that almost half of all the people on Earth believe in God's promise to Abraham. This is a promise answered in a rich fabric of spiritual blessings. The new pope is more than the leader of the Catholic Church to me. He's the inheritor and custodian of God's blessing to Abraham.

So when Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran came to the balcony and shouted, "Habemus papam!" ("We have a Pope!"), I was shouting, too. The first thing I learned was that Pope Francis is a Jesuit, not a diocesan priest. The Jesuits, like all order priests, take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They are the intellectuals of the church. I then heard that the new pontiff is a man of uncommon modesty and humility who rode the bus to get around in Buenos Aires.

It's time, I think, for an intellectual who rides the bus to become pope and shepherd his flock into a world in need of healing and love.

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