Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis

Pope Francis on his first appearance in front of his people.

Taking the name Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, putting the world's 1.2 billion Catholics under the direction of a pope from the New World for the first time in Christianity's 2,000 year history. A mild-mannered man who cooks his own meals and until now traveled by bus to his job as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to hold the Catholic church's highest office. His election is likely to shift the role of the papacy from theological teacher to pastor of the flock. It also reflects the shifting demographics of Roman Catholicism: Latin America is now home to more than one-third of the world's Catholics, with 483 million Catholics from Mexico all the way down to Tierra del Fuego in Chile. Argentina has 36 million Catholics. Mexico has 100 million and Brazil 150 million Catholics.
As a young Jesuit with some members of his family
Pope Francis immediately embraced his mission as shepherd in Rome and the world, leading more than 100,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square in the Lord's Prayer and then asking for them to pray for him with a moment of silence. He asked the people to bless him before he could bless them in his first blessing. His election also breaks new ground for the Society of Jesus, a religious order renowned for its skepticism of authority and hierarchy. St Ignatius of Loyola, the order's founder, didn't want Jesuits to be bishops because he didn't want prestige and power associated with it, but he wanted them to work as priests. What is unclear is whether the new pope, who has no experience with the central administration of the Vatican, will be adept in tackling some of the problems that face the so-called Curia.

In many ways, Cardinal Bergoglio is an ideal figure to transition from a centuries-old line of European popes. His father was an Italian immigrant, giving him roots in a country that is, along with Spain, considered a mother country of Argentina. Argentines rejoiced at the appointment, evoking the new pope's missionary actions in the working-class districts of Buenos Aires. He is a man of enormous modesty. In fact the day after his election, he returned to the Church-run residence where he was staying before becoming pontiff, the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, and insisted on paying the bill, out of his own money.

As a Cardinal of Buenos Aires, Argentina (1998-2013)
Born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, Jorge Bergoglio was ordained a Jesuit priest on December 13, 1969, and was consecrated as bishop on June 27, 1992. He was elevated to a Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires on February 21, 2001. His rise came as Catholicism has grown in Latin America. A century ago, 65% of the world's Catholics lived in Europe. But by 2010, only 24% did, and in the meantime, Latin America's share has risen to 39%—more than Europe and U.S. combined.

The choice of the name of Francis reflects his humble life. Having become archbishop of Buenos Aires 1998, he left empty the sumptuous episcopal residence next to the cathedral. He went to live in an apartment a short distance away, together with another elderly bishop. In the evening he was the one who saw to the cooking. He rarely rode in cars, getting around by bus in the cassock of an ordinary priest. But he is also a man who knows how to govern. During the terrible 1970's, when the Argentinian dictatorship was raging and some of his confrères were ready to embrace the rifle and apply the lessons of Marx, he energetically opposed the tendency as provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina. While he has served his entire priestly ministry in Argentina, the new Pope is well acquainted with the Vatican. At the time of his election to the papacy he was a member of the Congregations for Divine Worship, the Clergy, and Religious; the Pontifical Council for the Family, and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He served as relator general for the Synod of Bishops in October 2001. 

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio
Jesuits are not known for their regalia and showmanship in liturgy and other ceremonial functions. I don’t expect him to fancy many elaborate outfits and staying above the people, but rather he would mingle with the people as a humble pastor. Maybe even the Popemobile may end up in a Vatican museum. We saw that image of him already as he appeared at the balcony dressed only in the white cassock. He wore the same pectoral cross he used as a Cardinal, and even asked the people to bless him, bowing down and silencing the huge crowd to a whisper, where one could hear a pin drop in the Vatican square.

The Mass of consecration will be held on Tuesday, March 19, the feast of St Joseph, most probably in the Vatican square, and hopefully on a dry day.

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