Pope Francis: From Argentina to the World
THE SUN HAD SET over Vatican City on March 13 as the white smoke barreled out of the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, announcing the election of a new pope. The smoke eventually stopped, but the rain did not, and those crowded into St. Peter’s Square seemed unfazed. The anticipation could be felt: people danced, sang, waited.
Minutes later, clad in a simple, ivory-colored robe, the man once known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, emerged to greet the crowd—and the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide— as the new pope. For a moment he stood motionless, save the occasional wave to the 150,000 who came to meet him.
When the crowd quieted, Pope Francis, the 76-year-old Jesuit from Argentina, said, “Brothers and sisters, good evening. You all know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him. But here we are.”
Then, in an unprecedented move, the pope asked the crowd to pray for him. When that moment of silence ended, he invited Catholics on a journey with him—one of love, of prayer, and of brotherhood. The flock had a new shepherd.
A Rapid Rise
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, to Italian immigrants. Studious throughout his young life, he studied at the University of Buenos Aires, receiving a master’s degree in chemistry. He began his religious training at the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto, entering the Society of Jesus in 1958. He attended the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel, earning a degree in philosophy and a doctorate in theology in Freiburg, Germany.
Bergoglio’s climb in the Catholic world was relatively swift. He was ordained in 1969 and served as Jesuit provincial from 1973 through 1979. In 1992, he was ordained auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. After becoming archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, he was named a cardinal three years later.
Four years later, Bergoglio became the president of the bishops’ conference of Argentina—a position he held until 2011. But an even loftier position awaited him.
Introducting Pope Francis
On April 19, 2005, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger secured the required votes to be elected our 265th pope—a job many believe he didn’t want. Bergoglio, the quiet Jesuit, came in second. He still had the confidence of many cardinals in the days that followed Benedict’s resignation in 2013.
On the second day and the fifth ballot, Bergoglio won the two-thirds majority and was elected, taking the name Francis and, with it, the reins of the Catholic Church. He is the first Jesuit pope and the first one from Latin America—home to 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.
From the beginning, Francis avoided papal formalities. He greeted the crowd in a simple cassock, not the ornate, red mozzetta worn by his predecessors. Rather than being elevated on a platform above the cardinals, Francis positioned himself standing with his brothers when he was introduced.
The pope “stands as the figure of unity for all Catholics,” Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service that day.
It’s that gift for unifying that likely got him elected. While conservative on matters of contraception and samesex marriage, Pope Francis, known to have washed the feet of persons with AIDS, leans progressive on issues of poverty and economic progress. The breadth of his principles, many believe, will help him in reaching Catholics— both devoted and disenfranchised.
What’s In a Name?
In his lifetime, St. Francis of Assisi wed himself to simplicity and poverty. Some 800 years later, the saint’s legacy clearly influenced Pope Francis. He is no stranger to the slums of his native Argentina. He seems less interested in pushing Church doctrine than Benedict was, instead focusing his attention on the world’s poor.
And he appears to have little use for pageantry. Prior to his election, the pope lived in a simple apartment, cooked his own meals, and took public transportation. He joined his brother cardinals on the bus after his election— forgoing the limousine ride—and stopped at his hotel the next day to pay his bill.
However, the pope is not without controversy. He was an important figure within the Argentinian Jesuits after a military junta seized power in 1976. Two Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, were kidnapped that year by the navy. They resurfaced five months later.
In March 2013, Jalics, who lives in a German monastery, officially cleared Pope Francis of any involvement in his kidnapping.
But his admirers far outnumber his critics. In an interview with St. Anthony Messenger, Miguel H. Díaz, PhD, professor of faith and culture at the University of Dayton and a retired US ambassador to the Holy See, praises the new pope and says he’s wasted no time in reaching out to people of faith—much as his namesake did centuries ago.
“He is already bringing the Church together through his simple acts of kindness, love, and embrace of human differences,” Díaz says. “Listening to the suffering of the world, exercising compassion toward all, proclaiming a merciful God, and welcoming the gifts of men and women of goodwill who desired the good of the Church represents, in my opinion, his recipe for success.”
In his first meeting with the media, Pope Francis spoke of his fondness for the great saint.
“Right away, with regard to the poor, I thought of St. Francis of Assisi, then I thought of war,” he said. “Francis loved peace, and that is how the name came to me.”
During his inauguration on March 19, his homily echoed the principles laid down by St. Francis.
“I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political, and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment,” he said.
His papacy mirrors St. Francis in another way. Just as the poor man from Assisi was chosen by God to repair a broken Church, Pope Francis is called to a similar mission.
In choosing his name, the pope set for himself an intimidating standard. There was perhaps no greater reformer in Church history than St. Francis, and the pope is not blind to the need for reform today. The sex-abuse crisis, for starters, requires immediate attention.
But former ambassador Díaz has hope that change is possible under this papacy. Thorny issues will not be ignored.
“Pope Francis inherits a broken Church torn by moral, social, and financial challenges,” he says. “If his papacy can redouble the Church’s efforts to go out into the streets and meet the face of human suffering, starting with the victims of sexual abuse, we are in for transformative changes.”
Díaz would also like the pope to address human sexuality, the misuse of power and privilege, the role of women and the laity in the Church, reforming the Roman Curia, and pursuing more reforms regarding the Vatican’s financial system.
But hope is alive. Pope Francis is, by all accounts, a realist—and a doer. In his meeting with journalists, he recognized that the Catholic Church is made up of “virtues and sins” and urged people to focus on the “truth, goodness, and beauty” that live on. Healing and progress are attainable, but only when there is harmony among the faithful.
“I would like for all of us, after these days of grace, that we find courage to walk in the presence of God . . . and to build the Church with the blood of Christ,” Pope Francis said to reporters. “Only this way will the Church move forward.”
The white smoke has cleared. The bells are silent. It’s a new day.
What’s Next for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI?
On February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by announcing his resignation, citing his advanced age and health concerns.
After meeting with the College of Cardinals on February 28, 2013, Pope Emeritus Benedict boarded a helicopter bound for the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo. Soon after, his resignation took effect. He’s the first pope to step down since Gregory XII in 1415.
In his last address, Benedict was introspective about his resignation.
“I took this step in full awareness of its gravity and novelty, but with profound serenity of spirit,” he said. “Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, painful choices, always keeping the good of the Church in mind and not ourselves.
Benedict was at Castel Gandolfo until renovations were completed at Mater Ecclesiae, a former monastery inside the Vatican Gardens. Catholic News Service (CNS) reported that Benedict’s mood in the days following his resignation was relaxed.
So what’s next for him? Not much, officials say. In a CNS report, Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi, SJ, said that Benedict will not have the title of cardinal and will not hold any office in the Roman Curia. It has also been reported that he will disappear from the public, devoting his life to solitude and prayer.
“I no longer have the power of the office of the government of the Church,” he said, “but I will remain in service of prayer within, as it were, the enclosure of St. Peter’s. I will continue to accompany the Church with prayer and reflection.”