The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, as pope is an absolutely stunning selection that flies right smack into the faces of preservationists who are more interested in preserving an ossified status quo than robustly and credibly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. His election announces to the Church and world the truly dynamic character that lies at the heart of who we are as a truly global wonderfully diverse community of believers numbering over 1.2 billion disciples.
His startling election marks several notable firsts.
- He is the first non-European pope in the modern age.
- He is the first pope from the “new world” and, as such, is the first American pope.
[An aside: while living in Europe, I once introduced myself to a group as being an American. A man stepped forward and explained he was just as much of an American as he hailed from South America. Point taken – I am a North American or, more specifically, from the USA].
- He is the first pope to take the name Francis, in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi whose life was characterized principally in his love for the poor, spartan lifestyle and reforming spirit.
- He is the first member of the Society of Jesus – more popularly known as “The Jesuits” – to be elected the pope
Pope Francis’ namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) lived a life that expressly upended the status quo. The heroic saint renounced a life a privilege in order to live among the poor and to bring the hope of Christ to those most in need of God’s mercy. Having received a call from God to “rebuild the Church,” Saint Francis first thought God wanted him to fix the brick and mortar of a building! Soon thereafter he understood the divine calling he had received as a summons to love unconditionally God’s People – the Church. The name “Francis” represents genuine poverty, true humility and real simplicity.
We rightly can expect Pope Francis to be a very different kind of pope.