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For Pope Francis, only one question matters

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as pope is happy news because it means the world's Roman Catholics will no longer be even temporarily leaderless.

On a slightly more cantankerous personal level, it is also great news because it means the world's media will once again leave us alone. While we should, at one level, be grateful for journalistic interest in the events at the Vatican, precious little interest seems to have been shown in what is actually important to Catholics as religious believers.

Perhaps someone should take me aside and suggest I give up being churlish for Lent. Alas, that would require a critical mass of people, even in Montreal where I live, who actually know that we are in Lent, a season of more than minor importance to Catholics.

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And that's the sticking point for me. Few seem to have wondered aloud why Roman Catholics remain interested in being Roman Catholics in Anno Domini 2013.

Fewer still seem to have wondered not just why we pray for the Pope at every Mass, but why we go to Mass at all.

We have been told – and in fairness I've contributed to this conversation myself – about the urgent need for to reform the Vatican bureaucracy.

We've heard, again and again, about the crying need to change purportedly archaic rules around priestly ordination, teachings on divorce, strictures on same sex brother and sisters, the need to revitalize the failing European church with the growth and energy of the Church in the Southern Hemisphere whence Pope Francis comes.

We've been staggered backward until we're punchdrunk by the interminable criticisms of the sexual abuse outrages – and they were authentic outrages against body and spirit – that some in the Roman Catholic Church failed to stop.

But how often have we heard the question that is actually most relevant to the faithful, whether they are half-asleep in the back pews at Sunday Mass or have just assumed the title of Pope Francis: "Why are you a Catholic?"

The straight answer to that simple question is what actually binds the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, on all continents, together.

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It is the answer that Pope Francis will need to keep constantly before him: ahead of reform of the Curia, out front and away from the incessant pressures to change Church teaching, beyond the reach of media outlets hungry to provide their audiences with mere spiritual entertainment.

We are Catholics because we profess faith in the death and resurrection of Christ and in the establishment of his Church on earth. We have a new pope not because we like South American men in tall conical hats, but because we believe the pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth.

It is, self-evidently, perfectly acceptable and understandable for anyone, journalists included, to reject that belief and turn their lights on other topics. Call me cantankerous but I, for one, will appreciate the peace.

Peter Stockland is publisher of Convivium magazine and director of media services for Cardus, a think tank that draws on 2,000 years of Christian social thought.

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