Well. That was quick!
On only the second day of the Conclave of Cardinals, and after the BBC had reported this morning (after three ballots!) that the Cardinals were “deadlocked”, by last night we had a new Pope.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, became Pope and created numerous “firsts”.
He is the first Pope from Latin America.
He is the first Pope since 731 AD to come from outside Europe. Pope Saint Gregory III was Pontiff fom 731 to 741. It is recorded that, in 732, he anathemised the eating of horsemeat. Coincidentally of course the eating of horsemeat is an issue today, though I suspect the new Bishop of Rome will not address the issue – or at least in the same way as Gregory 1,381 years ago!
He is the first Pope to choose or have a novel name as Pontiff since Pope Lando in 913 AD. (Pope John Paul I was of course a “new” name, but was a construct of his two predecessors’ names).
He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere.
He is the first Pope to have Spanish (or a variant thereof) as his first language since Pope Alexander VI in 1492. Pope Alexander is described on his Wikipedia page as:-
He is one of the most controversial of the Renaissance popes, and his Italianized Catalan surname Borgia became a byword for libertinism and nepotism, which are traditionally considered as characterizing his papacy. However, his reputation is mostly drawn from his enemies, the Italian prelates and barons whose power he subverted. Two of Alexander’s successors, Sixtus V and Urban VIII, described him as one of the most outstanding popes since St. Peter. His reputation rests more on his considerable skills as a diplomat, politician and civil administrator rather than as a pastor, although regarding the latter he was no less effective than any of the other renaissance pontiffs.
He is the first Pope to come from the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits as they are more commonly known. This choice gives the lie to the theory that the Jesuit vow of loyalty to the Pope in some way prevented a Jesuit from being Pontiff.
His motto is “miserando atque eligendo” – lowly, yet chosen.
He was described prior to the Conclave as having “spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests.”
His biographer, Sergio Rubin, said of the then Cardinal Bergoglio:-
“Is Bergoglio a progressive – a liberation theologist even? No. He’s no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes,” Rubin said.
Last year, in a speech to priests in his Diocese the then Cardinal said:-
“In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage.
“These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”
“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.”
Just over a week ago my Parish Priest preached, echoing what Pope Benedict had said previously, that what the Church needed was not better managers, but more holiness.
All that I have read and heard about our new Pope suggests that the Cardinals have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to choose a holy man. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor indeed called the selection an “inspired choice”.
And my Parish Priest did what he had said he would do – echoing the bells ringing in Rome, the bell also rang out in Hamilton!
The Church faces many issues now, in Scotland and across the world. However, amongst my fellow Catholics to whom I have spoken since the white smoke escaped from the Sistine Chapel chimney, there seems to be a general feeling of great pleasure and optimism for the future.
A feeling that we have a Pontiff who, with his lifelong emphasis on social justice, will lead the Church onwards in the 21st Century.
A feeling that our new Pope will, rather like Pope John Paul I, act to deal with the errors of the Roman Curia. Pope Francis is the Papal equivalent of James Stewart’s character in “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” – an outsider untainted by the complications of the headquarters.
And the choice by Cardinal Bergoglio of the name “Francis” contains many inspiring messages too.
It immediately brings to mind St Francis of Assisi, the great saint, founder of the Franciscan monks and the “Poor Clares” Order of nuns. His Orders both were built upon ideas of living in poverty and spreading the mission of God.
It also recalls St Francis Xavier. He was one of the founding fathers, along with St Ignatius Loyola, of the Jesuits. He went on to one of the most remarkable missionaries in the Church’s history.
So the twin goals of St Francis of Assisi, bolstered by the missionary zeal of St Francis Xavier, seem to be at the forefront of Pope Francis’ plans as he takes his seat in the Vatican.
Let us hope for a long, healthy and holy reign for Pope Francis I.
I make no apologies for fitting in the following video.
Wednesday 13th March is a happy day in the Church, and too for the world.
Every blessing be upon you, Pope Francis, as you embark on your journey.
Posted by Paul McConville