A colleague of mine, lamenting the ageing process, once said that he had become resigned to being older than policemen, or even the Prime Minister, but couldn't reconcile himself to the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury was now younger than him. It will take some time, and a remarkable shift, before he will be complaining that he's older than the Pope.
At 76, Pope Francis does not exactly mark the beginning of the Catholic Church's new youth policy, but he is regarded by Vaticanologists as someone likely to bring a more modern, informal tone to the Papacy. We haven't got much to go on in this matter, but those who interpreted his brief address on the Vatican balcony have pointed to his humorous observation that the cardinals, in seeking a bishop for Rome, had gone to the "end of the world", and his valedictory "buona sera" to the gathering as examples of his common touch. That, and the fact that he likes getting the bus (one of the few devotions I can honestly claim to share with His Holiness).
It comes to something when saying "good evening" is regarded as solid evidence of a man of the people, but set against the pomp, the ancient ceremonial and the Latin invocations, even I thought that this did strike a new, welcome note. It was language we could all understand, I suppose.
How the Catholic Church, steeped in its 2,000-year-old traditions, deals with the modern world is always one of its biggest challenges, and, while the tens of thousands in St Peter's Square captured the moment Pope Francis was introduced to the world on their camera phones, it was hard not to think about the ways in which some of the periphera of the 21st Century must now play a part in Vatican thinking. For instance, did the Cardinals have a discussion about Twitter policy?
In some ways, Twitter is suited to Papal declarations, and Wednesday evening's "Habemus Papam Franciscum" perfectly captured the momentous news, and in much fewer than 140 characters. The Pope's offical account, @Pontifex, is used very sparingly, but this may change with a new, more inclusive approach. Don't expect commentaries on Question Time, an exchange of insults with Giles Coren or the latest round-robin joke about horsemeat, but maybe those who are responsible for such matters will try to nudge the Pontiff towards more regular use of a powerful communication channel on which he has the best part of two million followers. (The fact that he has 1.2 billion followers in the real, as opposed to virtual, world is neither here nor there.)
Also, he may like to use Twitter to keep tabs on his congregation: he currently follows only eight others, and they happen to be different-language versions of himself. Go on, Holy Father, Piers Morgan is one of your flock, and I'm sure you'd be interested in his take on Arsenal's poor run of form. We will watch with interest for a shift in the new Pope's tweeting habits, but for the moment I'm going to take my lead from him, and, in the hope you don't think I'm too familiar, I wish you all an exceedingly good day.Reuse content