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A time for hope, but no glory, for the Vatican

For a man of 76, Pope Francis seems to be in a great hurry.

Yet is he? By all accounts he spends much of his time in prayer and meditation. That makes it all the more remarkable that he has already achieved so much effective change, and is signalling that he intends to achieve much, much more.

I have to admit - confess might be more appropriate in this context - that, as a member of the Church of Scotland, I've always set great store on the importance of preaching.

Paradoxically, what impresses me most about Pope Francis is that he is clearly determined not to preach at people. He wants to be inclusive, and he does not wish to exclude people because of their sexuality, or because they have not followed his Church's traditional teaching to the letter. This does not mean he is slack or permissive.

It means that he understands ordinary people, that he is tolerant and gentle. And he is determined to be a man, and a Pope, of the people, which won't be easy. Perhaps that is why, even now when he has so many worldwide responsibilities, he still devotes so much time to prayer.

When I first heard of his determination not to stay in the Vatican's papal apartments, but rather to live among ordinary Vatican visitors sand workers, I thought this might be a gesture of rather showy PR.

Now I appreciate that it is all of a piece with his approach. He is determined not to be at the behest of Vatican "insiders" seeking to control and manipulate him. Even more, he is a man of transparent humility who does not want to set himself apart in any way.

Six months ago I suggested his election was all very well, but the Vatican was so corrupt and beset by scandal that the headquarters of the Church should move elsewhere - probably out of Europe altogether.

Now I understand this Pope does not need to be so radical; he can cleanse the Vatican from within.

But the obstacles remain. There are too many Italian cardinals, and for far too long the universal church has been an Italian-led church. Even the election of two non-Italian popes did not seem to change much. But the election of a third non-Italian (albeit of Italian extraction) Pope at last gives not only the Roman Catholic Church but, I would argue, the whole of Christianity, with its two billion plus adherents, a man who can provide effective leadership and, even more refreshingly, a good and humble example.

Pope Francis has already said the Catholic Church is currently "mediocre" and it concentrates too much on ceremonial. Identifying the nature of the malaise is just the first step.

Now comes the far more important second step - he must show the reforms he is introducing, and the example he is setting, can prove to the world, both Christian and non-Christian, that this vast transglobal organisation is truly on the side of the poor, the weak, the marginalised and the despairing.

In other words, the majority of human beings. We have had enough of pomp and supposed glory; it is time for humility and empathy.

I started by mentioning the Pope's age. Surprisingly, this might just prove to be his greatest advantage. I know that some parish priests find their jobs almost impossible.

As their numbers decline, more and more is asked of older priests who are often many years past the normal retirement age. I sympathise with them but then the new Pope is himself far beyond the conventional retirement time.

Disenchantment among ordinary priests will be one of the many issues Pope Francis has to address. His advanced age might make this easier.

These have been dark times for the Roman Catholic Church, not least in Scotland.

With the ordination of a new archbishop in Edinburgh at the weekend, and the positive, even inspirational world leadership of a new Pope, I look forward eagerly to an exciting period of renewal and recovery. And I write that as a Protestant.

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