The Real Mission for Pope Francis

Catholicism, among the most traditional of religions, contains at its core a paradox that has become increasingly sharp. As Pope Francis begins his first overseas trip – to Brazil, the world’s most populous Catholic country – it is difficult, despite the inertia of the past, to tell where the church is headed.

GLENDALE, CALIFORNIA – Catholicism, among the most tradition-bound religions, contains at its core a paradox that has become increasingly sharp. As Pope Francis begins his first overseas trip – to Brazil, the world’s most populous Catholic country – it is difficult, despite the inertia of the past, to tell where the church is headed.

The accession of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy adds to the puzzle. The chief Jesuit confessor at the papal court used to be called “the black pope,” owing to his simple black cassock (if not his sinister intent). Now, for the first time, a Jesuit has become pope – and has compounded the novelty by assuming the very un-Jesuit name of Francis.

As curious as such gestures are in an institution that thrives on imagery, they are symbolic frills. We already have plenty of pictures of Francis kissing babies; what he faces now – in Brazil and around the world – are strategic matters of genuine substance.

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