By Sam Eyoboka, Caleb Anyansin and Olayinka Latona with agency reports

CATHOLICS in Nigeria harbour no ill-fillings that one of their own did not emerge pontiff and have cheerfully received the news of the emergence of an Argentine cardinal as the 266th pontiff of the Catholic Church. There were silent speculations among Nigerian Catholics that Anambra State-born Francis Cardinal Arinze had an outside chance of emerging as the first black Pope based on his experience.

Spokesman for the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, Rev. Monsignor Raulph Madu, his Lagos Archdiocesan director of Social Communications, Rev. Monsignor Gabriel Osu  expressed gratitude that a Pope emerged from the 2013 Conclave after just five ballots, saying “thank God we have a Pope. Habemus Papam! The fact that the new Pope is from Latin America is indicative of the universality of the Catholic Church,” just as the umbrella body of Christians, CAN tasked the new Pope on spiritual rebirth.

Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) charged the new Pope to envisage a new dawn for Christians all over the world to witness the birth of spiritual dynamism that will revitalize dormant moral values.

In a congratulatory message addressed to the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) and Catholic faithful all over the world for the emergence of the new Pope, National President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor said: “I share in the joy of a Latin American Pope with the hope that a Nigerian Pope will, by this feat, emerge among the Cardinals we presently have in Nigeria.

”Going through his biography, I believe that as a doctrinal conservative and a man after social justice, Pope Francis is coming into the papacy with distinctive spiritual charisma, one that is based on positive interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue and a desire to serve the Catholic community worldwide in order to gain God’s good pleasure.

”I pray that he strives to make the Cardinals who elected him and, indeed, the millions of people who believe in his ideas feel the message of faith in God. I also pray that the Pope should, in his speeches and actions, envision a new dawn in which Christians all over the world shall witness the birth of spiritual dynamism that will revitalize dormant moral values, an age of tolerance, understanding and international cooperation that will, ultimately lead to a single inclusive civilization.

”May the beginning of your ascension become the sign and instrument of reconciliation, justice and peace that would bring forth joy, hope, peace and harmony in the world,” the CAN president stated.

Newly elected Pope Francis I, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

According to Monsignor Madu, a situation where Europe produces about 67 cardinal-electors with Italy alone having 30 and Latin America that has about 22 cardinals could emerge as the Pope is indicative of the universality and unity of the Catholic Church. “It is an indication that what takes place at the Conclave is the prompting of the Holy Spirit which cannot be questioned by any man,” he explained.

Madu maintained that the election of a Pope has not and will never be likened to what transpires in political circles because it is a highly spiritual endeavour, “or else how can one explain the emergence of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the Pope of 1.2 billion strong Catholic Church? In a Conclave made up of over 60 Europeans, 11 Americans and an Argentine who has never leaved in Rome to emerge as Pope. It has to be God.”

In a similar development, the spokesman of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Rev. Monsignor Gabriel Osu said the church is universal and nobody can introduce politics into the inner workings of the church. “All you need to appreciate the universality and the unity of the church is for you to have watched what transpired at the Conclave which produced Pope Francis.

“You cannot go into the Conclave as a Pope and come out as a Pope,” Osu said, adding that the universality, unity and love cannot be denied. According to him, Catholics do not see themselves as Nigerians first, rather we see ourselves as Catholics before regarding ourselves as Nigerians and that is why we would not have qualms as to who emerges as the new pontiff.

“You know that is one of the problems of the country—ethnicity and nepotism. We were not expecting a Nigerian Pope. We were expecting a Pope out of the mind of Christ and we have gotten one. If you watched what happened Wednesday you would seen the new man’s demonstration of humility, love and the urgent need for a fresh start. Everything about him is simplicity. He is an embodiment of intellectuality; a Jesuit. His pedigree is very strong.”

The Lagos archdiocesan director of Social Communication therefore enjoined Catholics and all men of goodwill to rally round the new Pope and pray for him, especially at this crucial moment of the church.

Challenges before the new Pope
Meanwhile as the new Pope settles down to the enormous task ahead of him, Catholics all over the world are of the opinion that Pope Francis has a gigantic task to give the 1.2 billion Catholics a thorough spring clean.

If there is one thing above all that the Catholic Church does brilliantly, it is symbolism, and the past few weeks have been rich in symbol and ritual, not least the moment when Pope Francis stepped on to the balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica and on to the world stage, dressed in the white cassock of a pope. He spoke of being bishop of Rome – that’s churchspeak for being not a grand pope but a simple pastor. He wore the ornate papal stole for but a few moments, stressing once again the simplicity, not the grandeur of his office. And he chose the name Francis, the name of the poor barefoot friar, as well as the name of one of the greatest saints of the new pope’s order, the Jesuits.

Above all, his election is an election of firsts: first Jesuit pope, first from outside Europe for 1,000 years, first Latin American pope. And Catholics so far seem to like him: his humility, his back story as the son of migrant workers, his shunning of the fripperies of office. Liberals are focusing on his solidarity with the poor; traditionalists like his conventional view of sexual morality.

For too long it has seemed as if the Catholic church has had its doors closed on the world, a tragedy for those Roman Catholics who had been so thrilled, so excited, when the second Vatican Council began and Pope John XXIII urged the windows of the church to be flung open.

What the Catholic church needs now is not just those doors and windows to be opened up, but also a thorough spring clean. To clear out the dirt and dust and shake things up, from reform of the way it has been governed to a rethink about how it has dealt with child abuse and a confirmation of its role, standing shoulder to shoulder with the poor and the dispossessed. Francis will need to first set a new tone, then change the personnel at the top.

While the church is undoubtedly declining in membership in the west, it is thriving elsewhere. For there is far more to this ancient institution than PR gaffes. For many people it is vital to their wellbeing, providing services such education and healthcare. Its priority is always to nourishes people’s faith, but even in this it has faced a struggle in Francis’s own backyard, facing competition from Pentecostals in Latin America.

Can it yet again offer hope to the west? This is in many ways one of the toughest asks for Pope Francis – when there is so much evidence that much of Catholic teaching is rejected by an increasingly secular society. But that society is not in many ways a happy society – one where consumerism has been so rife, and now at a time of economic decline it seems adrift. A pope who can offer a new optimism, a sense of meaning and purpose to the west, would transform the church’s original heartlands.

How Francis will do that will not be by throwing out the church’s traditional teaching on sex – the Catholic church moves step by step, working out reform while holding on to tradition. And Francis is very much a traditionalist on personal morality, speaking out forcefully on gay marriage. But he is also essentially a pastoral man. He understands the difficulties of life; this was evident last year when he spoke out against priests who refused to baptise the babies of single mothers, denouncing them as “the hypocrites of today, the ones who clericalise the church”. Probably the most westerners can hope for is a more compassionate approach. Francis needs to tell people with utter conviction that the church is on their side.

In the past few weeks all the talk has been of management: the need for better governance, for a 21st-century approach to running the Vatican show. It even got to the stage where people said the papacy needed Jesus with an MBA. The wisecrack veils the complexity of the problem. What the bishops of the church mean by reform of the way the church is run concerns the relationship between them and the Vatican head office, or Curia. What the media tends to mean is the more sensationalist aspects of Curia dysfunction – what was hinted at in the Vatileaks documents. Both need sorting out – and among the documents awaiting the new pope is the document produced by three cardinals on Vatileaks, which Benedict XVI apparently locked in his safe to await his successor.

The 19th-century French priest and political theorist Félicité Robert de Lamennais warned that “centralism breeds apoplexy at the centre, and anaemia at the extremities”. That neatly sums up the vast task awaiting the pope from Argentina as he tackles the church’s difficulties. He will need to be as innocent as a dove and as wise as a serpent to bring it off.

10 facts you must know about Pope Francis
THE fact that Pope Francis has only one lung is just one of 10 unusual facts about Pope Francis. Besides being a pope with one lung, Pope Francis has washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients in a hospice, has been trained as a chemist, and has criticized priests who refuse to baptize babies born to single mothers.

For many Catholics and non-Catholics who are wondering whether a pope with one lung will have the strength and stamina to deal with controversial topics like sex scandals, Pope Francis’ life as a child, teen, young man, and former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio will speak for itself.

1. Born as the son of an Italian railway worker
Pope Francis was born as Jorge Marion Bergoglio on December 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, to Italian immigrants Mario José Bergoglio, a railway worker, and his wife, Regina María Sívori, a housewife. Growing up among five siblings with hard-working parents gave Pope Francis the values which define him today; family, love, charity, humility, frugality, the ability to connect with people, compassion, and being down to earth,

2. Losing one lung
When Pope Francis was a teenager, he had a lung removed as a result of a respiratory illness and lung infection. According to lung expert Dr. Zab Mosenifar from Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, “Without seeing and testing him, I would comfortably say he functions at 85 to 90 percent capacity of someone his age that has both lungs and hasn’t taken such good care of himself.” Dr. Mosenifar also mentioned that Pope Francis lost his lung most likely more than fifty years ago when lung infections were treated via surgical removal instead of antibiotics.

3. A master’s degree in chemistry
After studying chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis received a master’s degree in chemistry. According to a Catholic Herald report, Pope Francis “studied liberal arts in Santiago, Chile, and in 1960 earned a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires. Between 1964 and 1965 he was a teacher of literature and psychology at Inmaculada high school in the province of Santa Fe, and in 1966 he taught the same courses at the prestigious Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires.”

4. The Road Less Travelled
Pope Francis entered the Society of Jesus on March 11, 1958, but was not ordained priest until Dec. 13, 1969, because of his years of studies and pursuit of a variety of interests in philosophy, literature, and teaching. He was already 32. Despite his late start, however, Pope Francis was leading the local Jesuit community within four years, holding the top post from 1973 to 1979. Pope Francis’ life and focus as a Jesuit and as a unique individual continued despite being promoted to higher positions. Even after Pope Francis was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, he remained humble and spent his time caring for the Catholic university, counseling priests and preaching and hearing confessions; tasks that are not usually performed by “superiors.”
“On June 3, 1997, he was named coadjutor archbishop. He was installed as the new archbishop of Buenos Aires February 28, 1998.”

5. Simple apartment, cooks his own meal, rides the bus
Becoming the new archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 did not change who Pope Francis was as an individual. He rode the bus, visited the poor, lived in a simple apartment, and cooked his own meals. Even in Rome, Pope Francis did not live in the archbishop palace but lived in an apartment where he continued to cook his own meals. Besides his low-key lifestyle, Pope Francis was part of a larger social entity by creating new parishes, restructuring administrative offices, and starting new pastoral programs such as a commission for divorcees.

6. The defender of the family who “washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients”
Pope Francis is the author of books about spirituality and meditation and is the co-author of the book “Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra” (On Heaven and Earth) which is available on Kindle. While he is an outspoken person as a defender of the family and is against abortion and same-sex marriages, he is also the same human being who, in 2001, “washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients in a hospice” according to the Guardian.

7. Condoms “can be permissible”
Unlike many officials in the Catholic church, Pope Francis believes that condoms “can be permissible” to prevent infection. Also unlike many other church members, Pope Francis has never lost his connection with ordinary people. On March 13, 2013, CBS New York wrote that,

“He’s lived those 76 turbulent years on little buses and bikes and convents, in dusty lanes all across Latin America. … Bergoglio often rode the bus to work and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the Church.”

8. Pope Francis practices what he preaches
Talking about “social outreach” is easy, practicing “social outreach,” however, is part of the essence of Pope Francis from childhood until now. According to The Economist, Pope Francis told his fellow Argentinians “not to waste their money on plane tickets to Rome to see him created a cardinal by John Paul II in 2001, urging them to give it instead to the poor.”

9. The heart makes a man, not his clothes
When Pope Francis came out onto the balcony on Wednesday as new Pope Francis, he came out in a white cassock instead of the traditional red cape and papal stoll. “He even chose to wear his own, simple cross — devoid of diamond and jewels — as he stood on the balcony taking in the incredible scene below.”

10. Expect the unexpected
Even though Pope Francis was believed to have been the runner-up in the last papal conclave in 2005 that elected Pope Benedict XVI, hardly anybody expected Pope Francis to become the new pope in 2013. Not only becauseof Pope Francis’ age or because of his Jesuit background but also because of his “association with priests involved in liberation theology, a movement previously frowned upon by the Vatican.”

Expecting the unexpected appears to be a major theme in Pope Francis’ life. Who would have expected that a child from a railroad working family in Argentina who did not become a priest until he was 32 would become the leader of the Catholic church at the age of 76?
Pope Francis faces many challenges as the leader of the Catholic church. However, if anybody can bring upon much needed change, it is – unexpectedly – a pope with one lung.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.