Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, a Jesuit by formation, has honored St. Francis of Assisi today, and is now the first Pope to have the regnal name of this patron of Italy and champion of the poor. Or is it the Jesuit, Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries? In any case, it was widely speculated that we would soon have a Pope from Italy once again, but in so many sectors there was a strong hope for a “Papa” from Latin America. With places like Brazil (120 million Catholics), the Church in Latin America represents roughly forty percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. So, it is an historic hour, that not only do we have both a new pope alongside Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but that Pope Francis is the first pope to have been born in the Americas.
There is a kind of poetry one might read into the moment. Prior to now, Pope Francis was Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, a city that was first established as Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre, or “City of Our Lady Saint Mary of the Fair Winds”. In this, the Year of Faith, reflecting on Vatican II, Catholics have perhaps been reminded of Blessed John XXIII’s optimism and hope as he opened the council, and “opened the windows to let the fresh air in.” What an opportune time that a man hailing from the “Fair Winds” has been let in, in a most spectacular fashion!
But, what can one really say about where a man is from, or where he is going? Let us pray that Pope Francis is truly Spirit led. In the words of Jesus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear the sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). A fair wind has blown into the sails of the Bark of St. Peter, and in that sweet company, even if Jesus seems to be sleeping from time to time, and the storms of this world rage on with ever increasing ferocity, we can trust that the Spirit is truly guiding us to our Heavenly Homeland.
At the helm of the Church, Pope Francis is a man of mission. It is often noted that the Church is missionary by nature, and that it is as appropriate to say that the mission has a Church as the Church has a mission, as a bride can have a bridegroom and vice versa. There is a deep reflection here, as Jesus identified with His mission so that one wouldn’t be wrong in saying that Jesus is the mission. By word and work, Jesus communicated his very self to the world, giving himself to his Bride, the Church. We share in that same mission of the Trinity in Jesus, and Jesus in the Church, and now the Church in the world. Being, “in the world and not of it,” Pope Francis is known to advocate for “shoe-leather evangelization”.
This “in the trenches” attitude of mission is supported by the now Pope’s lifestyle prior to today. It is reported that instead of living in a palace-like bishop’s residence and the pomp of chauffeured limousines, this man has taken for himself a small apartment and public transportation. Some note that he prepares his own meals. It is doubtful that he can continue on in this fashion as Pope, but we do have a glimpse of his heart already.
The missionary thrust has all the hallmarks of a man taking the name of Francis: obedience, simplicity, and humility. Doctrinally conservative, the Successor of Peter has a view to social justice, and is sure to speak out on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. As Cardinal, he has a history of applying the principles and themes of Catholic Social Teaching to controversial topics like euthanasia, abortion, and homosexual unions, with a clear Catholic voice and conservative record.
I will end off, taking the words of Father Andrew Small, OMI, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, saying:
“We pledge our allegiance and our fidelity to Pope Francis and encourage our entire mission family to gather around Him as around the Lord. We are renewed again in our faith in the bark of Peter, the Church. In unity with Pope Francis, we pledge our commitment to bring God’s liberating message of salvation to the ends of the earth, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to the poor and the lonely, the lost and frightened.”
May God bless Pope Francis!
For an apologetic on the Papacy from Dr. Scott Hahn see: Why a Pope?