Ok, the Cardinal electors took me by surprise. I thought they will still be voting until Thursday or thereabouts being that Benedict’s abdication took everyone by surprise. But being smart people, the potential deadlock was mitigated by recourse to the very candidate that came second to Benedict XVI. Vatican reporter John Allen Jr. famously reported that the Conclave that elected Benedict XVI was a tight ‘horse-race’ before Jorge Bergoglio, weeping, removed himself from the last round.
Pope Francis (not Francis I until there is a Francis II), an Argentine, Jesuit and reportedly humble person is the first non-European Pontiff since Gregory III, who was born in Syria (can’t figure out his race though), is a Chemist who joined the priesthood at the age of 33 because the Society of Jesus demands that members have secular education as well as spiritual instruction. The Jesuits are known as intellectuals and Pope Francis has spoken fluently and clearly on church doctrine in Argentina, famously ruffling the feathers of the Argentine President, Cristina Fernandez, when he said that adoption by same-sex couples is discrimination against children.
The new Pontiff is committed to the poor, outspoken against immorality especially homosexuality and same sex marriage, humble – he declined to live in the Archbishop’s palace in Buenos Aires but rather lived alone in a small house and cooked his meals, and rode in public transport even as Cardinal. But most importantly he lived like St. Francis and once washed the feet of AIDS patients in a hospital. These traits will make him hugely popular in Africa where the Continent still holds on to traditional Catholic views and poverty is the major challenge for adherents. But also as Africa rues missing out on the first black Pope, at least the Continent will be assured that the successor to St. Peter comes from a region of the world with nearly half of all Catholics at just over 500 million South American faithful.
Already his Papacy is off to a bright start when at his maiden appearance on the Balcony he prayed for his predecessor and then asked the crowd to pray for him the Pope. With his election to the Pontificate, the Roman Catholic Church has hit all the bases as the Church seeks a new direction and firm stance on the moral issues threatening to undermine it. The story is told that once when St. Francis of Assisi was praying in a broken down church, a voice called out to him to “build my church.” Maybe this Pope Francis, son of Italian immigrants, has come back to the land of his ancestors, as Bishop of Rome, to rebuild the Church.
I like him already. Habemus Papam Fransiscum.