Advice from a priest
1. First (and you perhaps have already made this decision), continue to be yourself. You are not a young man, but neither was Blessed John XXIII, and he accomplished quite a lot in a scant five years. Your emphasis on the poor will certainly help the many countries and indeed continents that are still undeveloped. And you are witnessing powerfully to your passion for the poor by your personal example of living detachment in the Vatican in these first weeks of your pontificate.
2. Follow the example of your two predecessors and travel frequently so that people all over the world can see a non-European pope—and a native Spanish speaker. Most particularly, concentrate on the Western hemisphere, home of the majority of Catholics. You already have World Youth Day on your schedule in August in Brazil—why not take the opportunity to visit your home country of Argentina and perhaps even drop in at Mexico City? A short visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s shrine would be fitting. Aggressively strive to bring back to Rome the many millions of Latinos who have become evangelicals. And speaking of dispersed faithful, why not follow up on the historic presence of the Patriarch of Constantinople at your installation Mass with a series of visits to all the countries that profess the Orthodox faith, including Russia, and plead for reconciliation? Perhaps you could even offer to convene a council to discuss possible reconciliation? Peter must be reunited with his brother Andrew!
However, as you may already have concluded, do not make old Europe a priority. Essentially, you should let Europe’s bishops carry out the new evangelization there. Time is short and your own mission is essentially global, not local. Devote your time to evangelizing what can be, rather than what once was and may never be again.
If possible, plan a visit to China, which is full of millions of both Catholics and Protestants. China’s leaders may in time conclude that Christianity does not threaten the regime but can be an asset if they grant full religious liberty to their people and get rid of the last vestiges of Communism.
3. Pay special attention to rejuvenating the religious orders, most particularly your own, the Society of Jesus! While the post-Vatican II decades have properly focused attention on the laity, it is only right for men and women religious to receive encouragement to live well their own vocations, return to the charisms of their founders, and seek others to join them for the good of the Church!
No one can do this better than a Jesuit pope who himself has witnessed firsthand the decline of religious during the last 50 years. Time for a Religious Renaissance!
4. Your Holiness, I am not asking you to become a techie, but the ever-developing communications media in all their variety may be the most effective way to spread the gospel to the entire world. Of course you must know this, especially since you along with the rest of the world watched the pastoral pilgrimages of Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict (at the end of the latter’s pontificate he was “tweeting”). Do not fear the Internet but view it as another instrument of evangelization that can pave the way for the one-on-one witness of family and friends.
5. Pay little or no attention to the hostile secular media, poor souls who do not understand our Faith or the Church or its mission. We will never satisfy them. Assign a top-flight media professional layman and or laywoman (wouldn’t that be cool?) to handle the press and then ignore them.
6. The Curia? If there is a real problem, make your decisions about what to do and then empower a trustworthy Cardinal to implement them, with surety and kindness. My suggestion is simple: I would make the Curia completely and proportionally international and if possible place more women there.
7. Finally, Your Holiness, speaking as an American citizen, please clarify that putative Catholics (particularly those in public office) must not scandalize the faithful by receiving Holy Communion (as occurred at your Mass of Installation), although they promote laws directly violating the Church’s moral teachings.
If you need more advice, just ask, but I don’t expect to hear from you soon!
Fr. C. John McCloskey III is a Church Historian and Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C.