Among the millions painting Rio papal last week were Briony and Jesse, a happy couple of Australian married young professionals, whose Catholicism is their life. Briony is my grand-niece and a grand, if petite, lady. Jesse is a giant. Both did the WYD in Sydney and in Madrid. They would not have missed Rio if you paid them. They are gung-ho Catholics.
Briony’s grand-uncle is fascinated by such faith in his own family. And impressed by their tolerance of apostates like myself, a tolerance taught them by my niece Patricia and her mother, my sainted sister Betty. They no doubt prayed once again for my conversion, hoping even that I would reconsider my atheism as I witnessed, once again, the faith expressed by the WYD participants and its star attraction, Pope Francis.
The new Pope may well turn out to be the best thing that happened to the Church since the election of his Polish predecessor. We, and Benedict XVI, all knew that John Paul 2’s would be a hard act to follow. But the present Pontiff seems destined to reinvigorate if not reform a Church declining in developed countries but thriving in the Third World. He may even convince my Believers on the Brink to reject their doubts, to join him and the billion plus Catholics of whom he is the servant (“Servant of the servants of God”) and re-embrace the faith they were tempted to abandon. Rio is not good news for atheists like me.