Pope Francis met with former Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo for the first time. The meeting is a historic event and marks the first time in 600 years that two popes have met one another. The two prayed and then spoke of the future of a church in transition.
Upon Francis’ arrival the two embraced one another prior to going inside the chapel at Castel Gandolfo for prayer. Francis presented Benedict with an icon of Madonna called the "Madonna of Humility." Francis told the former pope, "You gave us so many signs of humility and gentleness in your pontificate." Once inside the chapel, the 85-year-old Benedict offered Francis the traditional kneeling bench used by the pope. Francis declined to use the bench alone, "We’re brothers, we pray together." The two knelt together side by side, their hands folded, deep in prayer.
The pair then travelled back to the papal villa where they were greeted by onlookers who could be heard chanting, "Francesco! Francesco!" The meeting was private, but many presume the most-likely topic of conversation concerned the future of the embattled Catholic Church.
Both popes have had to deal with the challenge of modernity and technology. How to reconcile a document and religious structure steeped in tradition while remaining relevant for future generations? Does Pope Francis possess enough humility to admit the wrong doing of the church? To come completely clean about the decades of cover up and abuse would be the very fist step towards being a truly humble pope.
What Pope Francis must do now is entreat the faithful to join him in a dialogue about the future of the church. Many of the churches problems come from a disconnect people feel from the man they call pope. The Vatican is an autocracy and that absolute power has come at a price for the church. The pope may be the absolute ruler but he cannot rule those who will not follow. The church expects followers but it does not do anything to keep them. Part of what made John Paul II so popular among the people is that he, despite his many other errors, understood this.
Pope Benedict built up a wall around the church higher than the wall that surrounds the Holy See. Pope Francis must dismantle it, and he has shown signs of doing just that. He has reopened the morning mass to allow members of the public. He has also called for greater outreach to the poor and people of differing faiths.
Pope Francis must go out and meet Catholics, hear their grievances, their hopes, and fears. Then, he must act on them. That might mean putting aside thousands of years of dogma, but what could possibly be more humbling than that?