‘HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISUM’ were three very explosive words on Twitter a few days ago, with over 25,000 retweets in ten minutes. The newly created @Pontifex account announced the papal conclave’s election of Argentinian Cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, on 13 March 2013, shortly after white smoke arose from the Vatican.
Pope Francis I, formerly known as Cardinal Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the 266th Pope. At 76-years-old, Pope Francis’ age is concerning to some, especially since his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, retired from the papacy – a landmark act – because of his own advanced age.
Nonetheless, the quick consensus amongst the cardinals, after just two days of the papal conclave, sends the message that Pope Francis I was the obvious choice for the job. (In fact, it has been suggested that Cardinal Bergoglio was considered to be the runner-up during the election of Pope Benedict during the 2005 papal conclave.)
Pope Francis I’s election has signified both a new beginning for the Church and a reiteration of traditional Catholic values. As the first non-European Pope, he represents modern Catholicism’s largest demographic: Latin Americans. As the first Jesuit Pope, he represents an order of Catholicism new to church leadership. Since Jesuits typically eschew ecclesiastical honours in favour of serving Catholic leadership, the Jesuit doctrine of education, social justice, and humility has never reached the level of the papacy.
His choice of ‘Francis I’ as his papal name is indicative of his agenda. There are two St. Francises in the Catholic tradition: St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier. The former is known as the saint of the poor, whose life’s mission connects to Pope Francis’s liberal view on social justice and personal history of helping the poor. The latter was a missionary and evangelist known for introducing Catholicism to south and east Asians. As such, he shares Pope Francis’ identity as an advocate for a global view, rather than a Eurocentric one, of Catholicism.
However, Pope Francis is also known to typically conservative on sexual matters. He does not believe in sex before marriage, birth control, or homosexuality. In this way, he is very much a conventional Catholic leader.
Despite controversy over his religious leadership role during the Argentine military dictatorship of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (a.k.a. ‘the dirty war’), Pope Francis marks a new and optimistic beginning for the Catholic Church. The enthusiasm that met his election is promising in terms of his intense new job. He is expected to deal with the constant sex abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church in recent years as well as the shortcomings of the Curia (the Vatican’s ruling group) and the Vatican bank.
His warm reception by Catholics worldwide suggests a smooth transition and positive start to his reign. The breaking news that he once had a girlfriend with whom he liked to tango (before he joined the church ranks, of course) is sure to earn him additional popular support.
More seriously though, his first papal appearance was endearing, as he humbly, holily, and sincerely called for ‘fraternity, love, and trust among us’ from the balcony of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. As the twitterati have said, ‘Viva il Papa!’