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Milt Hankins: Pope Francis due for some plaudits

Oct. 25, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

When the College of Cardinals chose Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio to become Pope Benedict XVI's successor, I wrote an article in which I predicted that the new Pope would not bring about significant changes in the Catholic Church.

Some of you may recall the article, "Don't expect new direction from new Pope." After carefully listing areas of concern for many Catholics, I concluded with "So, my Catholic friends, lower your expectations and flow along with the tide. I could be wrong, but, in all good faith, I suspect I'm not. We must all wait and see."

Was I ever wrong! No one likes to admit egregious mistakes (particularly columnists), but I feel it's only right and fair that I do so.

I continue to stand by my contention that Pope Francis will not issue any major, momentous edicts to the church, i.e. allowing priests to marry, recognition of civil and/or marital rights for gays, or changing the moral, doctrinal or social order of the church, including the role of women in the priesthood. However, he is already and will continue to make monumental changes, paradoxically, in a small way. He has already changed the face -- if you will, the complexion -- of the papacy.

Pope Francis is causing a breath of fresh air to waft through the church. He is showing by example that he is a man of the people. He is telling the church that it should not be focusing on what he appears to consider the small, inconsequential doctrinal issues. But rather, he says, the church needs to be focusing on the larger issues of peace, love and mercy. The church needs to discover inclusivity. The church needs to appeal to the common folk.

I am reminded of a song from Camelot: "What do the simple folk do?" Well, Pope Francis is teaching us by demonstration what the "simple folk do." And it is resonating -- not merely to the Catholic Church -- but throughout the entire world!

As a result of personally demonstrating the religion he represents, Pope Francis is, in spite of my predictions, making significant changes. As a matter of fact, he may eventually have as much impact on the church as Pope John XXIII. And I, for one, certainly hope so.

It is refreshing to see a man of Pope Francis's demeanor, spirit and compassion residing in the Episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome (the Holy See). How uplifting to see the Pope leaving the safety and security of the "pope-mobile" to mingle with the people. I have heard, although I cannot substantiate it, that Pope Francis eschews many of the perks other popes have taken for granted, i.e. splendid apartments, exceptional accommodations and finery fit for a man of his stature.

"Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." May his small gestures pave the way for remarkable achievements.

So, I admit that I was wrong and, more so, I am sorry for underestimating the abilities and potential of this humble soul from Argentina.

Milt Hankins of Ashland, Ky., is a retired minister, theologian and freelance writer.

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