From the crop of religious world leaders we have today, none impresses me as much as Pope Francis, the new head of the Roman Catholic Church.
What really stands out about this Argentinian Holy Father, whose real name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is that he has taken the simple lifestyle as his mantle and is a man who practises what he preaches.
The septuagenarian pontiff is the epitome of humility and approachability to the masses. In the not-too-distant past, one of his predecessors, Pope John Paul I, had almost identical personality traits and though he was nicknamed the "Smiling Pope", he was a man of action. The present pontiff is no different. Not only is he a trend-setter but a man of substance. What better way to influence the world, specially youths and adults, than by living a transparent, admirable life. He has a heart for the poor and countless expectations lie before him, and in his humility he is aware that he needs divine intervention to get results.
A glimpse into his soul was reflected in his simple request when he said: "Pray for me." Not many leaders would voice their dependency. After all, being the shepherd of a flock of 1.2 billion is a colossal task. Addressing the Vatican's myriad challenges will be an uphill task as the Church recoils from a string of scandals: the child sex abuse cases which refuse to be swept under the rug, the disunity within the Vatican bureaucracy, the complaints of women's groups who want to be recognised and effective in church affairs _ the list goes on.
Pope Francis has already started with positive measures to tackle the litany of woes. Many view this as a breath of fresh air and are hopeful of a better future, others are more sceptical and have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. The political angle is also there and much wisdom is required to make decisions which have far-reaching consequences, not only in the Roman Catholic Church but the world at large, which is also watching to see what moves the Pope will make. In the past, church and state were intertwined, and while that is no longer the case, the church still wields considerable power. World leaders are aware of this. Spiritual heads have an unseen hold on leaders and the masses and their words carry weight, and great influence is exerted by the Pope.
As his papacy progresses we can be hopeful of his influence changing the laws of certain nations where barbaric practices and laws continue. I am optimistic that his strength of character and determination will yield results.
I don't believe it was by chance that he named himself after Saint Francis of Assisi. Hailing from a wealthy merchant family, young Francis renounced his father's wealth and choose the simple life of a monk.
He started an order with followers who were like-minded. Helping the poor and doing good whenever he could, his compassion reached out to all God's creatures. It was said that the nature-loving friar could communicate with animals _ a sort medieval Doctor Doolittle.
The patron saint's famous prayer is worth reading and it looks like Pope Francis will follow his patron's teachings. The "Prayer of St Francis of Assisi" runs:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Indeed, heavy lies the head that wears a crown. Pope Francis has a long journey of choices ahead of him. It goes without saying that the church consists of frail humans who are susceptible to weakness, making it all the more essential for the leader of the flock to take it upon himself to live an exemplary life so a standard is set for others. People in positions of leadership should take note.
Yvonne Bohwongprasert is a feature writer with the Life section.
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- Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert