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JUST GOOD COMPANY believes that public opinion will help determine the kind of man who will next occupy the Chair of Peter. And so, on the supposition that Pope John Paul II will not break precedent (263 popes before him have died), we are asking for your opinions, hoping that some of the cardinals on our subscription list will ponder over your hopes, when (and if) they head to the next conclave. And so, we are inviting our readers to submit mini-essays – about 500 words seems just right – that describe the next pope. Please send your essays as attachments on Microsoft Word to this address:

JustGoodCompany-submissions@yahoogroups.com. And tell us something about yourself.

To prime the pump, we asked Michael Leach, executive director of Orbis Books and co-editor of I Like Being Catholic, to tell us what hed do if he were pope.

If I Were Pope

Michael Leach

If I were Pope I'd have a ball. I'd be "Happy Pope," and smile a lot. I'd stand on the balcony and stretch out my arms in a great embrace and tell everyone I love them and, even better, God loves them, no matter what. I'd tell everybody wherever I went that nothing can separate them from the love of God, not death, not sin, not anyone or anything. I'd tell that to my worker bees in the Curia before reducing it by half and encouraging every priest under sixty to join the missions. I'd tell that to sinners, saints, and fools, to liberals, conservatives, and confused, to Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. I'd preach God's unconditional love to God's children in every country, to those with AIDS in Africa, to those in prisons and in hospitals, to those who are divorced and remarried, to everybody everywhere. They would know that I meant it, and that it was true, even if it was hard for them to believe. Someday, if I said it well enough and often enough, and most of all proved it with my life, other leaders in the church would do it too, and the children of God wouldn't have to believe -- they would know. I can't wait to be Pope! I'll live in the Vatican two months a year to catch up on paperwork, but the rest of the year I'll live in parishes throughout the world -- the one by Cabrini Greens in Chicago, the one under suspicion in Bejing, the one high in the Alti Plano of Peru. I'll be like Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath: "A fellow ain't got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, so I'll be everywhere, wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and where people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build. I'll be there too!" Yup, that's where I'll be when I'm Pope. I'll be in Israel and Palestine, in Bosnia and Afghanistan; I'll sleep in a favella in Brazil, a high-rise in Manhattan, and a houseboat in the bay of Hong Kong. And wherever I am, I'll preach nothing more and nothing less than the incredible, overwhelming love of God that is "closer to us than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet." I'd like to write more about when I'm Pope but I've got to go now and practice my embrace. The way I see it, even if I don't get to be Pope, it's important to become that kind of person wherever and whatever I happen to be.

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