Habemus Papam! Cardinalum…who?


Let’s be honest – when he first came out, I think we were all surprised.
Cardinal Bergoglio was on maybe some of the longer lists, but certainly not the short lists. Almost everyone said he was too old, that we thought the cardinals would go for someone much younger after the resignation of Benedict. So when he came out, I think everybody was pretty surprised. It was also a very strong rumor, sense, intuition that a North American would get it, so either Dolan or O’Malley or Ouelette.

So anyway, when he came out, we were surprised. And then furthermore, I was surprised when the Pope came out, and for a long period, he stood with his arms at his side, and no smile, and just sort of standing there.

Then the minute he began talking, he won me over and won the crowed over. You could tell. I think all the moves he made were really good ones. And then throughout this week, he’s continued with these sort of surprising moves. On the way back from St. Mary Major,  he popped into Casa del Claro, which is the priest residence near the Piazza Navona.  There he thanked the staff for their kind hospitality, grabbed his luggage, and paid his bill.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio’s father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has four brothers and sisters. His original plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature, psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.

These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into “base communities” and political activism.

Although Jesuits generally are discouraged from receiving ecclesiastical honors and advancement, especially outside mission countries, Bergoglio was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 before being named Archbishop in 1998 . The late Blessed John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001 and it is rumoured that he

Bergoglio has consistently, throughout his time as a Priest, Bishop and Cardinal, supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor. “We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” Bergoglio said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”

At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal holiness over efforts for structural reform.

Pope Francis is seen an unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the same President who now is seeking an audience with him – one cannot help but chuckle.

Nevertheless, he has always shown deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS; in 2001, he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients.

Bergoglio also won high marks for his compassionate response to the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a seven-story building housing the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the Delegation of the Argentine Jewish Association. It was one of the worst anti-Jewish attacks ever in Latin America, earning praise in 2005 from Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, for his leadership and compassion.

Bergoglio may be basically conservative on many issues, but he’s no defender of clerical privilege, or insensitive to pastoral realities. In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refused to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of “rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.” I like this guy!

As Pope Francis addressed the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the sense of hope and renewal was so real, so tangible that you could almost reach out and touch it. As the Church slowly begins to recover from decades of largely self-imposed harm, one cannot help but hold on to hope that this, ‘Pope of the Poor’ may restore the humility that the Church so desperately needs at this time and in doing so, reveal the richness of faith that a life in Christ offers, a faith that has been handed down by the Church for over 2,000 years, preserved by the Holy Spirit. If a change is to come, it most certainly would come from the Pope who has taken the name of the 12th century reformer and saint.

As one Italian writer quoted an anonymous cardinal on March 2 as saying, “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things.”

We certainly hope so. Veni Sancte Spiritus.


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