16/03/2013 16:28 GMT | Updated 15/05/2013 06:12 BST

The People's Pope

"Daddy, why are we waiting a whole hour to see a new pope?" my 13 year-old daughter asks as I rush back and forth from the kitchen, where I am cooking dinner, to the sitting-room, anxious not to miss the first glimpse of the newly elected pope on SKY television.

"This is the Catholic Church's big chance to change, if they pick the right man," I say. "It's exciting."

"He's irrelevant," she says. "I want my dinner."

So much for her Catholic education, I think, despairing.

"Is the Pope the Pope of all Christians?" her 14 year-old sister asks.

I am despondent now. Yes, maybe my 13 year-old daughter is right, I get to thinking. Maybe the Pope is irrelevant - to teenagers, at least.

"No, he's the Pope of Catholics."

"Are we Catholics?" my 8 year-old daughter asks, ever eager to keep up with her sisters.

"Yes, that's why you are making your First Communion this year, remember?"

"Oh," she says, joining up the dots.

A cardinal steps on to the balcony.

"Is that him? Is that the winner?" my 8 year-old asks, jumping up and down with excitement, and clapping, as if her favourite act has won on X-Factor.


She sits back down again, deflated.

"Can we please have our dinner?" her sister pleads.

"No. Wait just a minute!"

The cardinal launches into Latin.

"What's he saying?" she asks, irked.

My 7 years of Latin studies finally pay off. My children are the first people in the world to know the identity of the new Pope. I translate.

"He's an Argentinian. It's the Argentinian cardinal," I shout, delighted.

"Great!" my 13 year-old says, sarcastically. "Now, can we have our dinner?"

"He's a Jesuit," I add.

"You were a Jesuit," my 14 year-old says.

"Yeah. But you escaped," her 13 year-old sister says. "You jumped over the wall."

"I didn't escape. I left before being ordained a priest. Is that a problem? Would you rather I had stayed?"


Jury is out.

"What's a Jesuit?" my youngest asks, forever keen to keep up with her sisters.

"A Jesuit is someone who ... "

I stop. My children will be sending out for the men in little white coats for their father, if I tell them what a Jesuit is. A Jesuit is someone who has come to recognise his sinfulness and utter dependency on God, in the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, the 30-day period of silent meditation which is the foundational experience of Jesuits worldwide. He is someone who has come to know Jesus as an intimate friend and companion in the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises, and who shares in Jesus' preferential option for the poor as a result. He is someone who has begged God for the grace to choose dishonour over honour, poverty over riches, sickness over health, if it be for The Greater Glory of God, in the Third Week of the Exercises, and who, in the Fourth Week, has obtained a conviction about the extraordinary beauty of everyday life in the light of the Resurrection. Like their father.

The Pope steps on to the balcony.

"Buona sera!" he exclaims.

The crowd goes wild.

"I want you to pray for me," he says. I fight back tears. "Buon reposo!" he finally wishes them, hoping that they'll soon have the rest that they deserve after standing for hours in the rain to see him.

I turn to my 13 year-old daughter.

"You know, I think that you're right. The Pope is irrelevant - and the beautiful thing is he knows it. He knows that the people are the Church. That is revolutionary. This is going to be a great pontificate."

"So, can we have our dinner now?"

My iPhone buzzes. If only you'd stuck with the Jesuits, look where you could have ended up! the text from my friend says.

I wouldn't swap places with the Pope for all the tea in China, I text back.

Unless, of course, he were cooking the dinner.

And I wouldn't put that past him!

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