“Paddy Power” Dublin’s bookmakers did not even have him listed as one of the favorites. Jorge Mario Bergoglio , now Pope Francis, is just as much a surprise as was Pope Benedict’s resignation. It was leaked that during the Conclave that elected Benedict, Cardinal Bergoglio was also a strong contender. It is also reported by an undisclosed source that he tearfully begged his fellow Cardinals not to elect him.
Papa Bergoglio’s chosen name of Francis I is revealing of who he is and the kind of papacy that we can expect. St. Francis is one of the world’s most beloved and famous saints because of his simplicity of life and love of the poor. He is honored by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. By evoking the name of the poor man of Assisi Pope Francis signals his solidarity with the poor and disenfranchised. From all reports Bergoglio shunned luxury. He lived in a small apartment in Buenos Aires, did his own cooking and took public transportation. He further puts forth the importance of personal spirituality which attracted so many of St. Francis’s followers.
Francis knows that much of the corruption in the church has come from a lack of belief or in the negotiability of its central doctrines. It is because of this turn to modernism, which judges truth by worldly criteria , that he will reinforce Catholic teaching. He knows that doctrine and morality go hand in hand. And, that if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God his Gospel must be obeyed. From this, he understands that the church’s moral teaching on social justice and on human sexuality will fall into place.
Francis I is a Jesuit scholar. He is well acquainted with the world. He knows the power of evil. In his own country of Argentina he was all too familiar with corruption and even death squads to eliminate government opponents. He knows that in Latin America and in the rest of the developing world that the Kingdom of God is not brought about by force but by love. During his pontificate he will encourage Christians to take their faith more seriously. He will preach by his own example and humility.
Many were expecting that a younger man would have been elected. Francis is 76. However, there is no doubt that the vigor sought by the Cardinals was not the strength of youth, but the power that comes from sanctity. It is only this supernatural strength that can stem the tide of secularism. This is a lesson that the church learned from the Middle Ages when reforming Religious Orders, like the Franciscans and Dominicans, as well as reform minded popes saved the church from heresy, immorality, and spiritual lethargy among the clergy and laity.
Like St. Francis, this Pope’s attributes have the ability to not only reunite and invigorate a divided Church, but also to fulfill the vision of the Second Vatican Council to reunite Christians.