Dear Pope Francis,
I didn’t always feel connected to Pope Benedict during his papcy, but over the last month I think I am getting closer. When Benedict stepped down, some people questioned his motives, thinking that he was leaving behind some sort of mess for his successor to clean up. But, while these theories were appealing, I had a feeling that he stepped down after a great deal of discernment, and with great humility and love for the Church. The things I have been discerning aren’t nearly close to the magnitude of Pope Benedict’s, but they still greatly impact my life, and to some degree, the lives of those around me. Discernment is a tough process, whether it impacts one person or billions. I discern those things with great love, just the same way I think Benedict did as well.
After Benedict stepped down, and during the conclave, I was neck deep in school work, so I didn’t really follow much of the media coverage. One night, I did read a list of people that someone thought could be the next pope. I remember that you were on the list, and when I read your bio, I remember thinking how cool it would be if you were elected.
Fast forward to a week later, and I was at my school, which is a Jesuit theologate. We celebrated our community liturgy for the Conclave. When we finished mass and were preparing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we found out there had been white smoke. We rolled a TV into the student lounge and gathered around, decked out in our St. Patrick’s Day finest, eating Irish stew and soda bread, waiting to find out who you were. When you were first introduced we were all confused, you’re name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I knew it from. Then it was announced that you were a Jesuit, and it didn’t matter that we didn’t know who you were, because you were one of us!
One of us, I think that phrase summarizes what I had hoped for, and what I have seen over your first year. I hoped for a pope who would both inspire me and challenge me by his devotion to the faith. You have, because you acknowledge that you are a sinner, just like everyone else. You are pope, but you are still a child of God. I think immediately of the picture of you at the Curia retreat, sitting with the members of the Curia. I think of you roaming the streets to greet people after mass. You are one of us, a human being, seeking God.
Maybe, that’s why I find it so easy to write a letter to you week after week. I come from a radically different culture than you do. I am a young lay woman from a small town in a first world country. I didn’t see poverty or know corruption. But I still feel like you can understand some kernel of truth in my experiences. I know there was, and continues to be, a lot of speculation and drama around the hot button topics, like abortion, homosexual marriage, poverty and female ordination, especially in North America, and these influenced what many people wanted in the new pope. But my hope and dream for the new pope was much simpler. I wanted to relate to him, I wanted a real person that Christ was working through.
I am so incredibly grateful for your election, Pope Francis, because when I read an interview, or a news story about your latest activities, I feel hope. I feel hopeful that the Church can be relevant, engaging, and open-minded, but stay rooted in the mission of Jesus.
Thank you for inspiring me to find my place in this beautiful faith.