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by Ray Fleming

Last Sunday I ended my Looking Around article -- The Next Pope -- with these words: “There is a consensus that the Catholic Church may never have had to make a more important decision than the one now facing it.

The fervent hopes of all Catholics and of millions of other religions and of none will be that the next Pope is capable of restoring his Church's reputation and influence in the world.” How likely is it that Pope Francis will be able to meet that challenge? It is obviously too early to say but if initial impressions matter his calm and almost informal manner during his first appearance on the Vatican balcony on Wednesday night was encouraging in its lack of stiff Vatican protocol. His reputation is of a humble man whose strength is in his pastoral work.

Pope Francis is 76 years old and has only one lung. The agenda of problems facing the Catholic Church is long and testing. The people advising him will mostly have spent long years at the Vatican and be accustomed to its traditional ways of thinking and working.

But the choice of a Argentinian as Pope is in itself a symbolic reform of incalculable importance and one which he should use to the utmost to impress on his Church that change is possible and must follow in so many of its attitudes and actions.