It was on in the corner of the classroom while our teacher continued with her lessons. Every once in a while, she would glance at it, and 32 pairs of 14-year-old eyes would follow her gaze, checking for the white smoke that would signal the election of a new pope.
Unfortunately, we weren’t in class when the white smoke actually was sent up, but I think my classmates and I did make it on a local news channel. Cool story, huh?
Sometime soon, I’m sure that same classroom will have a similar live feed set up, this time probably on a more high-tech device than a giant TV strapped to a metal wheeled cart. And this time, instead of just thinking, “It’s pretty cool we get to watch this happen,” I actually care about the person the College of Cardinals will elect to be the next pope.
Since 2005, I have been confirmed in the Catholic Church and added another eight years of Catholic education under my belt. The past eight years have included 10 semesters of theology classes and a greater understanding of my faith and how the teachings of the Church relate to me on a personal level and in my everyday life.
Yesterday, the cardinals met to discuss when the conclave to elect the next pope will commence and began discussing the type of man they believe is best suited to begin his papacy in 2013.
As a lifelong practicing Catholic, I have my own ideas about what kind of person a pope in this modern age should be.
Yesterday on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” John Allen, a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter stated that two-thirds of the world’s Catholics live in developing countries “in the southern hemisphere,” but two-thirds of the 207 pope-appointed cardinals hail from North American and European countries.
This misrepresentation is not unlike the wealth and education gap we see between American political leaders and most American citizens. While this is not something that can be fixed overnight, it is something that a pope can exercise some control over, since he appoints the cardinals.
I would like to see a pope who is cognizant of the global Catholic population and who is able to search for qualified Church leaders who represent and understand the concerns of Catholics in the developing world. Several of the eligible cardinals themselves come from these regions of the world and could bring new knowledge and perspective into the papacy.
One of the biggest concerns for Catholics today is the stain of sexual abuse scandals that have pulled the Church into the public eye for extremely unfavorable, saddening and frustrating reasons. My own home diocese, as well as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, have seen this scandal firsthand.
Like many other Catholics, I find this appalling and completely unacceptable. The fact that prominent Church leaders are willing to cover up or turn a blind eye on such behavior, not to mention the fact that the behavior itself happens, is unacceptable for men who are supposed to be role models for their parishes and dioceses. My hope is that the next pope can adopt a policy that does not allow leaders who have committed such crimes, failed to report them or assisted in covering them up to remain in their prominent positions.
Another controversial issue that many Catholics feel strongly about is the ability of women to be ordained as priests. While I would love to see women ordained in my lifetime, I know this is not a change that can happen overnight. It needs to be a conversation between Catholic laypeople, Church leaders, leaders of other religions that allow female priests and the pope himself. I believe the Church needs a pope who is willing to start this conversation and consider all sides seriously. Women can and do lead governments successfully; why not the Church as well?
The pope has always been a mighty figurehead for the Catholic Church. The traditions upheld by the Vatican are important and can be beautiful. I truly respect the faith tradition in which I was raised and have been fortunate enough to visit St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.
But I, like most Catholics, live far from Rome and see that if the Church wants to survive as a global institution, the pope must be someone who is willing to truly serve its people. I want a pope who is unafraid to visit Catholics all over the world and genuinely try to connect with them and understand how Catholicism applies to their lives. I believe the Church should not be afraid to grow and change in the coming weeks, years and decades to continue to uphold the faith it has taught for the last two millennia.
My hope is that the Church guiding the children soon to be sitting in classrooms watching for white smoke will be one that can be responsive to their needs – not one that expects them to simply accept and blindly follow its teachings.
Caroline Campbell is a senior in the College of Communication with a major in journalism and a minor in history. Email her email@example.com.