It’s been quite a perplexing past few days for a guy like me who watches, reads and listens to what’s happening in the Church. Pope Francis has been prominently in the Catholic news and the secular press because of his trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. I have tried to find the good, but it has been mixed with some disconcerting developments.
He went to Sri Lanka and it was reported that he was too tired to meet with the country’s bishops. He was well received by this majority-Buddhist country with a small Christian minority, and I appreciated the welcome he got. But, how could he not meet with the bishops? From coverage of past papal visits, I have heard and read of the positive effect such a visit has on the local bishops, priests and religious. They get really juiced by the experience, and it strengthens their commitment to their vocations. It could only have a bigger effect on those who are tens of thousands of miles away from Rome, who cannot travel easily or inexpensively to Rome, particularly the priests and religious, and particularly even more so where the Faithful are a small minority. The pope’s stature gives them stature.
Instead, Pope Francis attends a multi-denominational meeting where he exhorts the gathered crowd to live in peace. That’s good and he should do this. But, what about the Catholics? Isn’t he the head of the Catholic Church? Shouldn’t his primary mission be to see and meet with them, to celebrate Mass with them, and learn a bit more about the Church there and to bolster them? That bothered me and no doubt others.
Then, I read he did get to meet with Bishops, and I assume priests and religious also were able to do so although that wasn’t clear in what I read. Finally, and I give a sigh of relief. I was getting worked up over nothing, it turns out. Except . . .
So how does he get to meet them? He goes to meet them but is a couple of hours late. By the time he gets there, they had left. Picture that: the bishops sitting around scratching their heads, wondering what’s up, chatting with each other, guessing if he’s coming or not, maybe playing a few rounds of checkers. Couldn’t someone with the pope have called them to let them know he was delayed? Apparently not. After two hours, they left.
When he gets there finally and finds that they left, he decides to pop into the Buddhist shrine nearby and partakes of a heathen ceremony. All impromptu, I take it, yet the Buddhists were waiting for him ready to go, and the cameras were there rolling to take the photos, and the reporters were there to transcribe it all. I think somebody must have called ahead.
Then, apparently the out-of-the-loop bishops heard the Buddhist bells from the ceremony or something and come back to meet finally the pope. I haven’t seen any photos of that.
Is this surreal?
Finally, last Wednesday, he gathers with the Faithful for Mass in Colombo and declares Joseph Vaz a saint. The country gets its first saint, which should be a great cause for celebration and it was. But, this is Pope Francis and the shine comes off when you get the details: he did away with the requirement of a second miracle, as he did when he made Pope John XXIII a saint last year. Those silly rules getting in the way of things can’t be followed anymore. As a Catholic, I believe that those the Church has declared a saint have been so declared because of the strict vetting process involved, and that helps my belief. I know some early Church saints didn’t go through that process, but this vetting process more (remember the Devil’s Advocate) or less (remember they did away with the Devil’s Advocate) has been the case for the last few hundred years. Otherwise, we get saints based upon a popularity contest, or a Cardinal popularity contest or the whims of a single man pursuing his own agenda . . . like we have in the past year.
So, the bishops got their meeting, the Faithful had their Mass, and I guess the priests and religious of Sri Lanka, at least a few, were able to meet the Pope, and the country got its first Saint.
So why am I uneasy about the way this played out? Is this the way the papacy is supposed to operate? What is supposed to be and ought to be very important is shown not to be, and what ought to be secondary is made the most important. Am I missing something here? Does anyone care anymore?