Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina emerged Wednesday as Pope Francis I and proclaimed, “My brother cardinals went to the end of the world to find a new pope.” For the first time in the history of the Church, the man that emerged from the Papal Conclave came from “The Americas.” Bergoglio (now Francis I), the son of an Italian immigrant, was born and serves the church in Argentina. Just being born outside the realm of Europe is something of a drastic departure from tradition. The last known Pope to be born outside of Europe was Pope Gregory III way back in the 8th Century.
Now Pope Francis I takes on the challenge of leading 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide – quite a daunting task for a “humble man” who reportedly cooks his own meals and takes the bus to work from a “humble home” no less. He refused to live in the cardinal palace. He is by all accounts and appearances a “Man of the People.” In his first address to the gathered masses, he showed great humility and deference by asking the people for help and prayers in his endeavors – particularly fitting given his choice of “Francis” in honor of Saint Francis who is known as one of the most humble of all in sainthood. It was Saint Francis that went to Rome and told famously told the Pope it was time to reform the Church. Pope Francis I – the reformer?
One can’t help but wonder if the choice of Pope Francis will also signal an end to the days of papal isolation. Goodbye Pope Mobile? He was taking the bus a month ago. Can you picture him now riding in a bubble?
Admittedly, I knew absolutely nothing of Cardinal Bergoglio before today aside from seeing his name on various “short lists”; but he is reportedly a “conservative” yet “compassionate” who will hold traditional lines on issues facing the Church. He has apparently spoken at great length about income disparity between the “rich and the poor” – perhaps, resulting from his work in his native Argentina. He is seen as “progressive” on fiscal issues; but a traditionalist conservative when it comes to the social/moral matters. This should reassure conservative and traditional Catholics that the Church’s position on “Life”, “Same Sex Marriage”, and clergy marrying will remain largely unchanged.
As a Catholic, I look forward to seeing the direction Pope Francis I takes the the church in the years to come. With Latin America representing the largest population of Catholics on the globe, I would anticipate a great deal of outreach to our brothers and sisters in that region. Here at home, I very much look forward to seeing how the selection of Francis I is received. With the influence of Latin immigrants on our changing population, a pope from that region could have profound influence on the American church.
It’s a good day to be a Catholic. I, admittedly, was very much pulling for Cardinal Dolan; but I guess it wasn’t in the cards. But considering Pope Francis I (76) is anything but a young man; Cardinal Dolan may get another chance.
Photo Credit The Atlantic