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A Tale of Two Popes

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By Chris Sparks (Feb 21, 2014)
What a year it's been! Sometimes, I find it hard to believe that it's only been one year since Pope Benedict's resignation and Pope Francis's election. On the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Feb. 22, it seems appropriate to reflect upon this remarkable year of two popes and the changes it's brought to the Church.

We've seen a remarkable shift in the way the world looks at the Catholic Church, from a dour pessimism and irritation to bewildered hope and frequent joyful confusion. "What do you mean, mercy is the core of Gospel? What do you mean, Christians should be characterized by joy? What do you mean, Christianity isn't a religion of condemnation but of conversion, not damnation but salvation?" All things that Catholics who seek to practice their faith have known for a long time, but all truths that had been obscured by a world that couldn't seem to understand.

We must remember that Francis's pontificate is a gift that has been given through the humble resignation of Pope Benedict to his own human weakness and the will of the Lord. No Benedict, no Francis. Without Pope Benedict's patient endurance of the immense burden of being pope after Blessed John Paul II, of the eruptions of scandal and crisis that would almost certainly have come under any pope at the time, of the stormy controversies and challenges to the religious liberty of the faithful, there could never have been the turnaround occasioned by Pope Francis's election and first year of papal ministry. Pope Benedict demonstrated very clearly that the Church is truly in the hands of Jesus, animated by the Holy Spirit, the beloved family of God the Father, and so capable of surprising everyone again and again to the end of the world.

We've seen two extraordinary men on the chair of Peter in 2013, and we may look forward to many more years of Pope Francis's paternal leadership. We faced some dark days during the reign of Pope Benedict and were blessed with his willingness to "proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching ... be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry." (2 Tim 4:2, 5) Now we are blessed and strengthened by Pope Francis's persistent call to "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near." (Phil 4:4-5)

From Germany to Argentina, from Europe to the New World, from a diocesan priest to a Jesuit, from Benedict to Francis, there are worlds of difference, and yet the heart of the faith remains the same. They have both been dedicated to preaching and proclaiming Divine Mercy.

Pope Benedict encouraged the establishment of the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, beatified his predecessor, the Great Mercy Pope, on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2011, and gave the Church a "Divine Mercy Mandate." Pope Francis has spoken of Blessed John Paul II having a certain prophetic insight into the importance of St. Faustina Kowalska's Divine Mercy message for our times, announced the plans for the canonization of John Paul II with John XXIII on April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday, and "prescribed" the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to all and sundry at the end of the Year of Faith.

Now Pope Emeritus Benedict prays for the Church and the world from the hidden halls of the monastery at the heart of the Vatican. Now Pope Francis travels the world preaching Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, The Divine Mercy.

Let us thank God for two holy priests, two holy bishops, two holy men, who have, in turn, been given the role of serving as Holy Father to us all.

Highlights of Pope Francis's Papacy

March 13, 2013 — Papal Election

March 19, 2013 — Installation, Feast of St. Joseph

April 7, 2013 — Divine Mercy Sunday 2013

July 5, 2013 — Popes John Paul II & John XXIII to be canonized; first encyclical Lumen Fidei released

Pope Francis on mercy

July 23-28 — WYD 2013 — Interview, reference to St. Faustina

Sept. 18, 2013 — Fr. Dante gives Image of Divine Mercy to papal entourage in St. Peter's Square

September 30, 2013 — John Paul II and John XXIII to be canonized on April 27, 2014 — Divine Mercy Sunday (and Marians will be leading a pilgrimage!)

Francis and Mercy

October 13, 2013 — Pope Francis consecrates the world to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Nov. 17, 2013 — Pope Francis prescribes Misericordina (the Divine Mercy Chaplet) at the end of his Angelus address

Nov. 24, 2013 — Release of Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation On The Proclamation Of The Gospel In Today's World

In preparation for the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27, we've gathered some of the highlights of the papacies of both men. Visit our special resource page.

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