Papa Francisco

Among the people who are a bit disconcerted by the arrival of Pope Francis are the conspiracy-theorists.

Remember all the predictions? All that about Malachi and “Peter the Roman” and this next Pope being the last one ever? Oh, and the “Fatimists” with their assertion that Popes John Paul II and Benedict were both liars, in the grip of a secret Vatican conspiracy? There were some confident assertions that things were building up to a great climax – and then things worked out differently. Instead of something dramatic, we got the election of a mild and good man who takes the name Francis and speaks of love and mercy and care for the poor, and we realise that, after all, the next chapters will unfold as they always do, and the Church will carry on trying to do the will of God.

Doubtless things will bubble up again. Conspiracy-theorists are a bit lost while plenty is happening in the Church, so with a Papal inaugural Mass, and the flurry of news as various appointments are made and so on, they won’t have much to say. But when things settle down, they’ll be busy again – masonic plots and secrets hidden in cupboards, and Popes denounced as liars and so on…

Every Catholic journalist knows about the letter-writers we used to call the “green ink brigade” (some of them really did write in green ink, back in the 1960s and ’70s, when letters to newspapers were still sometimes handwritten). They asserted confident belief in certain conspiracies and plots. For quite a long while, one of these revolved around Paul VI – he was said to be imprisoned in a dungeon, while a lookalike was taking his place in the Vatican – <em>and you could tell by examining pictures of his ears…</em>

Pope Francis has asked us all to pray for him. We must do so, as the pressures facing a Pope in 2013 are gigantic. But no greater and no more terrible than those facing a Pope in, for example, 1914 or 1940…or those facing Blessed John Paul in the years of Communism (and he nearly died at an assassin’s hand). It is a tough job to walk in the footsteps of St Peter. Our first Pope, faithfully following the Lord he loved, gave his life in martyrdom. Down the centuries since then, we have had good Popes and (a few) bad ones, but each has upheld the authentic doctrine of the Church and it has been passed on faithfully to us. In recent years we have had some truly great and holy Popes –the 20th century was notable for its Papal saints, some already beatified.

But reality does not seem to deter those – including alas those who consider themselves devout souls – who believe that the Church is best served by announcing that Everything is Dreadful . Today, the internet makes it easy for campaigns to be organised, and also for conspiracy-theorists to spend hours swapping ideas and thoughts with one another. A computer can become a thief of time, stealing hours that could have been spent in some cheerful activity, or at a pleasant family meal, or in works of charity, a gathering of good friends, or prayer.

When Pope Francis was elected, I was in Poland: we were at a Mass in Krakow, praying for the Cardinals gathered in the Conclave. The priest announced that white smoke had been seen emerging from the chimney in Rome – but no name had been announced as yet. As we spilled out into Krakow’s main square, we consulted mobile phones and awaited the news. Later, we watched on television as Papa Francisco came out on to the balcony. How moving it was to see him asking for prayers, and to hear the great silence fall across the vast crowd as thousands bent their heads and folded their hands. God bless our new Pope. God grant him many years. He has our love and full support.