The arrival of a new Pope always gets my attention – I was named after Pope Gregory the Great who reigned from 590 to 604. Now Pope Francis has been officially installed in office, and his arrival evokes memories of childhood combined with the realities of my adult working life, and almost every interaction and challenge I face on a daily basis.
Raised a Roman Catholic in the small Lancashire town of Skelmersdale, I had virtually no exposure of life outside the Catholic world until university and the realisation that there were “others” – one of whom I married! Catholic school, Catholic friends, Catholic family, it was a childhood steeped in the tradition of the church. Even at Anfield I and thousands of others would be wearing Liverpool / Celtic bobble hats trying to outshout the thousands of Protestants chanting “Rangers” – this happened every week.
The physical church building brings the first evocation with the crowning of the new Pontiff. My church was St Francis of Assisi and the priest was…Father Francis. So, that’s the childhood sorted, on to adulthood.
The Book of Hebrews, 8:6, describes Jesus as a mediator and on Sky News yesterday (no parallels implied) they made the following comment: “…he [Pope Francis] is a great negotiator”. Mediation and negotiation are the pillars of my life as an adult. As a mediator I help parties negotiate. As a director I negotiate with my fellow directors (who are all also trained mediators and negotiators) and my team, and I negotiate on behalf of CEDR at business meetings with external clients daily. Of course, those negotiations continue at home, but I always lose those ones!
The skills of a mediator and negotiator entwine, and I am convinced my early formation of these skills, though supplemented and enhanced through CEDR’s leading training in both techniques, began at the church, and in particular during the 6 or 7 years I served as an altar boy, where at the age of 9 in my first mass I gave Archbishop Warlock a gift of a lamp as he officially opened the church.
Hearing that Pope Francis is a great negotiator therefore comes as no surprise. Father Francis and the other priests back in Skem would negotiate, and lead, on a daily basis. Skem was a tough place to be in the 1980s. Thousands of people from Liverpool dumped in a flat roofed, roundabout-obsessed new town 15 miles from home, quickly followed by mass unemployment and no prospects made it a depressing place at the time. The priests were constantly negotiating with their flock on a whole range of domestic problems, and I saw it first-hand. As an altar boy I would see people come and go and listen to the priests debrief – with no names ever shared – following confession. Being a priest is all about negotiation – it involves keeping confidences, acting impartially, with independence and integrity, it is leadership; yet under his white collar, a priest is just a man, and these skills need to be taught and reinforced as the priest gets more experienced in his workplace.
The Catholic Church finds itself in very challenging but now exciting times. Priests do receive much training but I wonder how much their skills could be enhanced through formal training in two of the areas practiced by their spiritual and earthly leaders – Christ the mediator, and Francis the negotiator.
Wouldn’t it be great if in 1,409 years children were being named Francis after Pope Francis the Negotiator?