Francis I was born today in a cloud of white smoke when Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the new pope.
Father Bergoglio is the first pope to adopt the name Francis. It could be viewed as symbolic. His Holiness is the first-ever Jesuit pope, the first pope from the southern hemisphere, and the first South American pope. In fact, there’s never been an American pope. He succeeds Benedict XVI, the first pope to step down in 598 years. And Francis is the first non-European pope in 1200 years.
Pope Francis holds traditional societal views and opposes abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage. He is not swayed by popular movements nor condemnation from the government. It makes me think – probably inappropriately – of a line in a Johnny Cash song: A spirit who would not bend of break, Who would sit at his father’s right hand
The new pope may put a stop to the church’s slow progress into the future. I mean this in a positive way. It is refreshing in this day and age of political correctness to have a pope who calls things by their real names, even when those names describe the powerful, the famous, and the beautiful, and even when they are trademarked by wealthy corporations.
The pope will uphold tradition, but expect him to do more than simply maintain the status quo. He chose his name in honor of Francis of Assissi, the saint who shunned worldly comforts for a life of poverty. His Holiness is a fierce advocate for the poor and disadvantaged. In 2001, Francis remarked bitterly that while poor people are persecuted for demanding work, rich people are applauded for fleeing from justice. He did not mince words when he spoke to wealthy listeners: “You avoid taking into account the poor. We have no right to duck-down, to lower the arms carried by those in despair.”
This isn’t lip service to the poorest among us. Francis, then Father Bergoglio, rejected the luxuries he earned through his senior status and a lifetime of devotion to the Catholic Church. He opted instead for an ascetic existence: he chose a one-bedroom apartment over the Archdiocesan palace, the bus over the Church’s limousine, and he cooked for himself rather than accepting the servants the Church would supply.
The Catholic Church is in grave distress. There is a desperate need for a man who is willing to confront the ills in society — moreover, a leader who will address the crimes committed by the priests within the church. We need someone who will make difficult decisions to do what is right even when it is not popular. Francis must be that man. God help the Catholic Church if he is not.
Pope Francis emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time this evening, and gave a blessing to the crowds who had been waiting in the square for hours in the rain. Then he spoke a message to the world’s billion Catholics who have been waiting for years for a strong leader to emerge. “My brother cardinals have chosen one who is from far away,” he said. “But here I am.”