Pope Francis sounds fresh and his adopted name, could reflect the papacy of Argentine Jorge Bergoglio, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years (since Gregory III, a Syrian, in 731), the first pope from Latin America, though with strong Italian roots, and the first Jesuit priest to be pope.
At 76, the choice of the 266th pontiff in the Church’s 2,000-year history was a surprise. He lost to Benedict XVI in the 2005 election. With Benedict XVI resigning over age, many expected the new pope would be younger.
He arrives at his assignment at a time of scandals – financial, sexual – are drowning the authority of the church. While the conclave was in session, one of the parishes in Chicago was paying a $10 million court fine for its priests who defiled young boys.
Francis, who chose his name from St. Francis Assisi, a 12th century Italian priest, famous for his simplicity, humility and care for the poor and down-trodden, would waddle through dissentions in the church over gay marriages, celibacy for priests, and increasing scandals from management of the Vatican’s shrouded finances.
The needs of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, almost half the number in Latin America, are fully mirrored in the Americas, where poverty, illnesses and bad governments run the day.
Francis is in touch with these realities that dictate many of today’s issues globally. A “pope for the new world’, as Time magazine dubbed him, should create a “new world” for the faithful, and billions of down-trodden people all over the world, who depend on social services the church provides to survive in a world of governments that neglect their people.
The pope’s humaneness and humility were at play Wednesday night. He shocked the waiting crowd at St. Peter’s Square with his request that they should pray for him before he blessed them.
From his sparse abode in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio would settle in the sprawling opulence of the Vatican. His constituency would be the whole world. The issues would be global with more complications than Argentine politics and legalised abortion which he fought fiercely.
The Vatican swishes in politics that is an admixture of Italian and global intrigues. Francis would play it.
More challenging is the presence of a former pope in Rome. The church faced that reality 598 years ago, in an era popes were deposed or rogue popes thrived outside the main church. How would Francis relate to Benedict XVI?
Ordinary Catholics bemused at Benedict XVI’s departure are glad to have a pope. The challenges leave Francis with a traditional church in deep need of changes. Hopefully when he is through, Francis would still be the poor’s pope.