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Torn between two popes?

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By David Whitlock

Some predicted the meeting between newly elected Pope Francis I and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, would be awkward. After all, the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t had a pope resign in 600 years. What would the two men say to each other?

Would Benedict tell Pope Francis what he should and shouldn’t be doing? Would the former pope be looking over the new pope’s shoulder? And would the new pope feel threatened, even resentful?

Would people find themselves torn between two popes?

Even if like me, you’re not Roman Catholic, the story is still intriguing because it carries a lesson in leadership that can apply to everyone, religious and nonreligious.

Before the meeting, Swiss theologian and friend as well as critic of Benedict said, “Benedict XVI could turn into a shadow pope who has stepped down but can still exert indirect influence.”

The meeting would indicate if that would be a likely possibility.

I can’t help but love Pope Francis. His simple style is fresh, humble and so uncommonly common.

When the cardinals first congratulated him in the Sistine Chapel as newly elected Pope Francis, he stood with them rather than sitting before them. Then on the way back to the Vatican, he rode the bus with the cardinals rather than riding in his designated limousine. And the day after his election, he asked to be taken back to the clergy boarding house so he could pay his bill. He prefers simpler cassocks and even rejected those red papal shoes in favor of his plain black ones.

My favorite Pope Francis story thus far is how he personally called back to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to cancel the delivery of his newspaper. The kiosk owner’s son answered the phone and thought someone was pulling a prank on him. “Seriously, it’s Jorge Bergoglio, I’m calling you from Rome,” the Pope insisted.

“I was in shock, I broke down in tears and didn’t know what to say,” Daniel Del Regno told the Argentinean daily La Nacion. “He thanked me for delivering the paper all this time and sent best wishes to my family.”

So, what did Pope Francis and Benedict talk about when they actually did meet last Saturday? No one knows for sure. Some have speculated they might have discussed the investigation of the leaks into the papal documents, the rise of secularism in the world and the drop of priestly vocations in Europe.

Perhaps they talked about how difficult it is to be pope. Can you imagine that?

So, maybe Benedict handed Pope Francis three envelopes.

Do you know the story?

A pastor arrives at his new church. His first day in his office, he opens his desk drawer and sees a note from the former pastor. The note says, “If things get tough, open these three envelopes.” The envelopes were numbered one, two and three.

Sure enough, within a few months the people began to grumble, so the pastor decides to open envelope number one. It said, “Blame your predecessor.”

The pastor did, and it worked well for about nine months. But once again the people began to complain. The pastor decided to open envelope number two. It advised, “Reorganize.”

The pastor reorganized the church’s entire program. And that worked for about a year.

Then the people began murmuring again, this time worse than ever. The pastor feared for his job.

In desperation, he decided he had to open envelope number three.

With trembling fingers, he pulled the note from the envelope.

It simply read, “Prepare three envelopes.”

I don’t know that Pope Francis will need three envelopes, but he no doubt faces a daunting task.

And like any leader, he needs the support of others.

It appears Pope Francis has that from a very gracious Benedict. And Pope Francis seems secure in who he is. When they met in the chapel, Benedict offered Francis the main kneeler, but Francis refused, saying, “We are brothers.”

The Roman Catholic Church won’t be torn between two popes.

Something more than history takes place when words of unity are spoken. “We are brothers.” “We are sisters.” “We are one.”

And that’s not a bad spirit for Christians of all persuasions to acquire on their journey to Calvary this Holy Week as they anticipate the celebration of their one Lord’s resurrection Easter Sunday.

And you don’t have to be pope to say it.