Dear brother Servant
Great question! Very perceptive too.
From the dogmatic and doctrinal standpoint of the Faith, the “person” of the pope is quite irrelevant. The Holy Spirit, to uphold the integrity of the deposit of faith entrusted to the episcopacy and the Holy See, does not require a “saint” to verify the truth of Holy Mother Church and her sacred teachings. Indeed we have had some terrible popes in our history, such as the Borgia, yet the flower, beauty and light of the Faith has never waned but rather grew all the more brighter and brought more of suffering humanity under its warm embrace. The truth is sufficient in itself to act as the attraction.
Nevertheless, in the context of the modern world, having a Shepherd who practices what he preaches and acts as so potent an exemplar of its blessings as does Pope Francis is indispensable. His actions, highlighted in world media channels in every nation and before the full glare of the press and paparazzi, is more effective than a million apologetic tracts and treatises in revealing to mankind the “splendour of the truth”.
Did not Baha’u’llah suggest the same when he noted in the Tablet to the Pope, “O concourse of bishops! Ye are the stars of the heaven of My knowledge”. In other words, religious leaders must be exemplars to their flocks.
Such people brighten up our world and fill human hearts with hope. The Shepherd of the Catholic Church, more than any religious leader on account of his position as the Father of 1.1 billion human beings and heir to a nearly 2,000 year old line of succession which is the most illustrious apostolic church in all of Christendom, should be the first to fall into this category, no?
William Sears, one of the late Baha’i “Hands of Cause” noted this in one of his books in reference to a past Pope who was very much like Francis, Blessed John XXIII (whom Francis will canonize a saint next year):
In the exact year and exact month of the one hundredth anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s Declaration to the world proclaiming that the sacred promise in all the holy Books had been fulfilled. **Pope John XXIII issued His Encyclical Letter which “received world wide acclaim.”
The praise was justified**. Not only did the Encyclical deal with the problems facing the world, but Pope John himself was a true lover of his fellow man, a saintly human being. In that Encyclical, the Supreme Pontiff spoke of the following subjects:
A world community
Search after truth
Equality between men and women
The oneness of mankind
The oneness of God
The harmony of science and religion
A warning concerning atomic energy
A spiritual solution to the economic problem
Do these ideas sound familiar?
They are one and all principles of the Baha’i Faith.
They are Teachings and Counsels which Baha’u’llah gave to the kings and religious leaders of the world over a century before the Pontiff finally spoke out, exactly one hundred years afterward. How powerfully those words of Baha’u’llah, spoken so long ago, to a Pope in Rome, now ring through the halls of history after a century: “0 Supreme Pontiff! Incline thine ear unto that which the Fashioner of moldering bones counselleth thee.”
Pope John XXIII, because of his sincere love of humanity, and his wise guidance to a troubled world, received the Nobel Prize for peace. He was admired and lauded in all parts of the world by both public and press.
… He had done no more than to share with mankind ideals which had been denied to the world for a century by the leaders of men, both religious and secular.
This was from his book, “The Prisoner and the Kings” chapter 14. (Yes, I’m familiar with a great deal of Baha’i literature ). Now, as a Catholic I can’t quite agree with his interpretation of Pacem en Terris and the origins of all those precepts, nevertheless Bill Sears made an excellent point about the impact that religious leaders such as John XXIII and Francis can have, for which I appreciate his input.
So from a doctrinal/dogmatic perspective: the “person” of the pope is of no or little consequence. It is the role occupied that is crucial.
But from another vantage point, it is a blessing and gift from God that can have massive reverberations and cause many to re-asses their biases, prejudices and preconceived ideas about the Catholic Church as well as influencing the world positively in general such as erasing barriers between atheists and Christians, aiding dialogue around common areas of agreement and our common humanity.