A little of this and a dash of that, combined with prayer and reflection, seems to be the recipe the 115 cardinals followed in choosing Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as the 266th pontiff of the Catholic church. Both an insider and an outsider, he is the first pontiff from Latin America and the first Jesuit.
The Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits are called, is a teaching and missionary order, long associated with independence from secular authority and a passion for social justice. The new Pope is known for shunning the trappings of high religious office, preferring to travel by bus or subway and to live a humble life. He sent that message Wednesday by wearing a simple white robe for his first appearance as Pope Francis. His name harks back to the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, the monk who devoted his life to the sick and the poor and who founded the Franciscan order.
Known as a conciliator and a man with a strong pastoral vocation – unlike Pope Benedict XVI, who was an acclaimed theologian and academic – Pope Francis faces huge issues: healing divisions in the church; stanching the exodus of parishioners and the dwindling number of vocations among priests; reforming the Curia, the clumsy and scandal-ridden Vatican bureaucracy; and imposing transparency and accountability in the Vatican bank. All of these reforms stumbled during his predecessor’s tenure. Said to have come second in the voting to elect former pope Benedict XVI in 2005, Pope Francis has enjoyed low-key but robust support among the College of Cardinals. Also, unlike Benedict, who had lived and worked in the Vatican for most of his career, Pope Francis has lived outside of Rome as a priest and archbishop in his native Argentina.
Although an advocate for the poor, he is a conservative on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage, like his two predecessors. He was deeply opposed to the legalization of gay marriage in 2010 in Argentina, declaring it a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” He also spoke out against adoption by same-sex couples, insisting it would deprive children “of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother.” And yet he strongly believes in loving the sinner, even while deploring the sin. He has publicly baptized the babies of single mothers and visited an AIDS hospice where he washed and kissed the feet of a dozen patients.
Pope Francis also represents continuity because he was made a cardinal in 2001 under the very popular pope John Paul II, another social conservative with a charismatic appeal who fought for democracy and embraced the downtrodden. Yet, at 76, Pope Francis is only two years younger than Benedict XVI was when he ascended to the chair of St. Peter in 2005. Whether he has the physical and mental stamina to confront the challenges facing the church is a question that well may be asked in the coming weeks. Now that a precedent has been set for a pope to retire rather than die in office, who knows how long Pope Francis may reign?
His life is not without controversy, especially during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. He was implicated in the detention of two young priests, a charge that he has flatly denied. Harder to defuse are the accusations that he didn’t do enough to support and protect church workers from brutal reprisals and crackdowns on anybody opposing the regime. Others argue that instead of overt action, he worked diligently behind the scenes in that demonic era when as many as 30,000 people may have been killed or “disappeared.”
Born in Buenos Aires on Dec. 17, 1936, he is one of several children of working-class Italian immigrants. As a teenager he suffered from a serious chest infection and had a lung removed. He set his youthful aspirations on a career in chemistry, earning a master’s degree at the University of Buenos Aires before finding his vocation and entering the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto. After earning a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires in 1960, he taught literature and psychology to high-school students for several years before returning to his own theological studies. He was ordained on Dec. 13, 1969.
He rose through the Jesuit ranks and was elected superior of the Jesuit province of Argentina in 1973, and appointed one of three auxillary bishops of Buenos Aires in 1992. Despite his senior position, he maintained a low profile, devoting himself to pastoral work with priests. In 1998, he was installed as the archbishop of Buenos Aires. As archbishop and as cardinal, he excelled as both an administrator and as a pastor, and travelled to synods in other parts of the world, including Canada, impressing participants with his spirituality.
At the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City in June of 2008, the multilingual Cardinal Bergoglio preached that while human beings, including priests, are fallible, the church itself continues to be sanctified through the celebration of the Eucharist, which he described as a bond that could not be broken and “the source and, at the same time, the summit of all evangelization.”
With that combination of faith, hope and charity, he may be able to set a new direction of renewal for his global flock.
Born: Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Dec. 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to a rail worker who emigrated from northern Italy and a housewife
Education: Studied chemistry in university; when he graduated at 22, he joined the Jesuits and took a degree in philosophy. Afterward, he studied theology. In the 1980s, he received a doctorate in Freiburg, Germany.
Ordained: December, 1969
Ascent in church hierarchy: In May, 1992, pope John Paul II named him assistant bishop of Buenos Aires. By 1998, he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and, three years later, a cardinal.
Languages: Spanish, Italian and German
First day on the job coming up
From the moment of uttering “I accept” in Latin, in front of his fellow cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, the job is his, and it starts instantly.
Pope Francis is getting right to work. He will celebrate his first mass as Pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday. He will also visit his predecessor, Benedict XVI, at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, according to Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
On Sunday – following two Sundays with no pope to appear at the papal studio window and bless the crowd in St. Peter’s Square – Francis will be expected by Catholics to speak to them.
Two days later, on Tuesday, the church feast day of St. Joseph, there will be his installation mass, a morning-long affair, with much pomp, prayers and VIPs in the pews, with as many as some 200 foreign delegations expected as well as hundreds of thousands of rank-and-file, including many from the Pope’s homeland.
That ceremony is traditionally held on Sunday, when the city’s streets can be closed to traffic near the Vatican. But St. Joseph’s feast day is a Vatican holiday, and it’s likely many Romans will skip work or school to turn out for the formal embrace of Rome’s new bishop.
Who was Francis?
The Vatican says the new pontiff’s official name is Pope Francis, without a Roman numeral.
Spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi sought to clear up any possible confusion, noting that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who announced the name to the world, said simply Francis. It is listed that way in the first Vatican bulletin on the new Pope.
“It will become Francis I after we have a Francis II,” he said.
Francis was a much-beloved Italian saint who is identified with peace, poverty and a simple lifestyle.
Jorge Bergoglio is the first pontiff from Latin America and the first pontiff to adopt the name of Francis, the rich, young man from Assisi who renounced wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars in 1290. “Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words,” he told followers.
The choice could foretell the Pope’s priorities in striving to bring a sense of serenity to the troubled church. St. Francis is said to have been called by God to repair a church in ruins.
Choosing the name of one of Italy’s patron saints also ties the new Pope to Italy, the homeland of all popes of the past few centuries until 1978.
The first Jesuit pope
More than four centuries after St. Ignatius of Loyola travelled to Italy seeking pope Paul III’s permission to found the Jesuit order, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the first of the spiritual brotherhood to be elected pope.
As one of the world’s 19,000 priests ordained to the Society of Jesus, as the order is officially known, Pope Francis vowed in 1969 to a life of perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience, including a “special obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff,” according to the The Society of Jesus in the United States.
When he was vice-president of the Argentine bishops conference, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was mentioned in a cable published by WikiLeaks discussing the 2005 papal candidates. The U.S. embassy at the Vatican said at the time his Jesuit standing “could count against him” since “some senior prelates, especially conservatives, are suspicious of a liberal streak in the order.”