One of the things that I love about being Catholic is the pope. Not the person of the pope necessarily (though there’s lots to love about Pope Francis!) but the office, the role of the pope in the Church. For Catholics, he represents the final authority; he is the supreme head. Within the structure of the Church, there’s a “chain of command,”1 so to speak, beginning with each local parish priest. If we trace the line to the top, it always ends with the pope. The buck stops here.
Why is this a good thing, that we have a pope, and only one pope? Perhaps the most important reason is that it provides unity. “Other religions are unified in belief and practice, but Catholicism is unique in that unity is personified in one single person, the pope, who ensures that the same seven sacraments are celebrated correctly all over the world, that the same set of doctrines are taught everywhere and that every member, religious, lay or clergy, accept the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome.”2 This is no easy task considering there are more than one billion Catholics spread throughout the world in a variety of cultural, political, and social situations – that’s enough people to constitute the third largest country on the planet!3
It’s not an ordinary relationship that the pope has with his people. He’s not some sort of benevolent dictator. He is our shepherd and guide, our Holy Father. When Jesus appointed the apostle Peter to first lead the Church, this is precisely what He had in mind.4 In fact, the word “pope” actually comes from an affectionate term for father – more akin to papa. Of the pope’s many titles, the one I love most is Servant of the Servants of God.5 To me, that really sums it up well. As Christians, we are all meant to serve one another, and none more so than the pope…he shows us the way.
The presence of the pope holds meaning for non-Catholics as well. He is undoubtedly one of the most visible and influential leaders in the world, yet his authority has less to do with power than with responsibility. He uses his authority for good, to uphold and protect the dignity of all human life. What a different perspective from the one we see in secular society, where human life is assaulted on so many fronts. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Pope Francis has captured the imagination of seemingly the whole world. We can trust that he’s looking out for us, and for all humankind. What’s more, there’s no air of superiority, no heavy handedness. Rather, he demonstrates the kind of authority modeled by Jesus – one based on love, respect, compassion, and mercy.
– Kelley Holy
1 Rev. John Trigilio Jr., PhD, ThD, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, PhD, Catholicism for Dummies (Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2003), 25.
2 Ibid, 19.
3 Statistics show that there are Catholics in every country of the world. Check out this link at http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/country/sc1.html for more information.
4 Cf. John 21:15-17.
5 Cf. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13737a.htm