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Faculty members reflect on new pontiff

Marisa Iati and Nicole Michels | Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, became known as Pope Francis when he made his first public appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday, approximately an hour after his election by the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Catholic Church and the first to take the name “Francis.”  History professor and papal historian Thomas Noble said Bergoglio’s choice of name highlights elements of the new pope’s self-image.

“There has never been a Francis,” Noble said. “The message here is that this is a man of the people, a humble pastoral pope, but does this accord with the new evangelization?”

New evangelization focuses on “‘re-proposing’ the Gospel to those … who have experienced a crisis of faith,” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website. History professor R. Scott Appleby said Bergoglio’s choice of name might indicate his intention to focus on this new evangelization.

“Pope Francis is an interesting choice of name with two possible implications: Francis [of] Assisi, who embraced holy poverty, strictly imitated the life of Christ and helped renew the face of the Church, and Francis Xavier, a Jesuit like Bergoglio, who was the great missionary to Asia,” Appleby said. “This might signal Pope Francis’s enthusiasm for the … new evangelization, which is necessary in the Church.”

Theology professor Ann Astell said because St. Francis of Assisi was known for his poverty, humility and penitence, Bergoglio’s choice of name sheds light on how he will likely lead the Church. She said this is in line with the way he has lived as archbishop of Buenos Aires – eschewing the diocesan mansion to live in a small apartment, taking public transportation and cooking his own meals.

“I think he’ll want to convey more by actions than by words that the Church of Christ is the servant of all,” Astell said. “[To do that,] we need to renounce those things that can be objects of pride and of worldly wealth and to present the Church in its most attractive guise as the servant of all the world and its people.”

Theology professor Robin Darling Young said although Pope Francis will no longer live as simply as he used to, he will likely maintain his connection with the people he serves.

“I think that people hope that he will not regard [the] opulence [of his new position] as a sign of personal privilege or even institutional privilege, but that he will put his office at the service of the people for whom the Gospel is directed,” Young said.

 Young said Pope Francis can focus the Church on serving its people by demonstrating a commitment to social justice.

“In the past 50 years, the pope has become such a public person in the universal Church that one of the best things he can do is set a good example,” she said.

The pope’s humility will enable him to direct the Church toward self-reform, Astell said.

“It seems that his humility … has been very striking to people who know him,” Astell said. “It was very evident in his first public appearance [yesterday] afternoon in the way he just stood there in silence before the large crowd. It was a silence that moves people to prayer.”

Fr. Tom Doyle, a faculty fellow in the Institute for Educational Initiatives, said Bergoglio’s first appearance as Pope Francis spoke volumes about the type of leader he will be.

“The protocol called for the pope to greet each of the cardinals personally before going to meet the people waiting, [but] Pope Francis reversed the order because the people in St. Peter’s square were waiting in the rain,” Doyle said. “His first public prayers were not for us, they were with us – the universal prayers of the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be.

“His first edict was … a humble request, that we pray for him.”

Pope Francis is the first non-European pontiff of the modern era and the first South American pope. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis will also be the first of his order to lead the Church.

Astell said the pontiff’s ties to the “old world” and the “new world” will emphasize the Church’s global character and universality.

“I think he will be a wonderful bridge figure between the new and old worlds,” Astell said.  “He’s lived and studied in Germany as well as in his native Argentina. … He is a child of Italian immigrants and his father worked for the railroads. He comes from humble origins, which I think will help him to stay in touch with the little people.”

Appleby said he expects Francis will exhibit the traits many Jesuits cultivate while in the order.

“If the new pope is anything like his fellow Jesuit, our own [theology professor] Fr. Brian Daley, … he is erudite, disciplined and dedicated to the apostolic works of the Church,” Appleby said.

Bergoglio was the subject of unproven allegations of misconduct during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” when the military junta in power from 1976-83 kidnapped and killed thousands. Despite these accusations, Bergoglio played a crucial role in helping the Church reconnect with Argentinians after some Catholic leaders were implicated in the terror.

Noble said Francis’s leadership through that challenging time suggests what he could accomplish as pope.

“He’s a very humble man, a very austere man that has brought one of the most conservative Catholic churches in the world into the modern era,” Noble said. “In Argentina, the Catholic Church was very much aligned with a series of very repressive regimes for a long time. So, is that [revitalization of the Argentinian Church] a signal of what he might do as pope?”

Noble said the pope’s experience managing the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires might enable him to usher in a new era of curial reform.

“Apparently, he has been a very efficient administrator of his diocese in Buenos Aires, which is a large and complex diocese,” Noble said. “How he deals with the appointments and reappointments in the Vatican will tell us a lot about how we should think of him.”

Noble said the new pope will be challenged to effectively manage the Roman Curia, which rules the Vatican, to respond to increasingly strong evangelical strains of Christianity in Latin America and to address any other crises that might arise. The election of Bergoglio might imply the Vatican’s willingness to accept a pope who would ‘clean house,’ especially within the Curia, Noble said. 

“The question of the [cardinals] was whether or not they would try to build consensus to pick someone who would maintain the status quo, but obviously they’ve reached far outside of that group,” Noble said. “Is this a signal that they want someone to come in and clean house? 

“For more than a century, the Church’s response to crises has been to circle the wagons and to protect the institution. A lot of the time that is noble, admirable, but at other times that has gotten the Church into trouble. I think the sex abuse scandal is the best example of that [trouble] … If they had said ‘We are going to clean house,’ they might have been better off.”

Appleby said Pope Francis embodies many of the qualities necessary to help people recommit to the Church. He will likely be especially effective in reaching young people, Appleby said.

“The young people of the world in particular seek authenticity in a pope – the authentic face of Christ as a humble servant, clear teacher and moral and spiritual example,” Appleby said. “Pope Francis is known as an accomplished administrator, serious of purpose and dedicated to running a tight ship.

“He seems to not be tarnished by the sexual abuse scandal. He has spoken out on behalf of the poor, and lives a simple life with a humble spirit. All of these qualities will be welcomed by Catholics, not least [by] young people.”

To be named Pope, Bergoglio needed to receive 77 votes, two-thirds of the 115 votes of the Cardinals in attendance. Bergoglio was elected on the fifth ballot in one of the fastest conclaves in years, though he was not seen as a frontrunner before the conclave began Tuesday. 

Reportedly, Bergoglio was the second choice for the papacy during the 2005 conclave that resulted in the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

Astell said Bergoglio will likely view his candidacy in 2005 and 2013 as evidence of God’s will that he serve as pope. This sense of God’s will and the support of Catholics worldwide will give him courage, she said.

“He asked for our prayers, and that’s the really beautiful thing – the courage to step into those big shoes of the fisherman with an openness to God’s will,” Astell said. “I think he must rest at peace knowing that this is God’s will and that that will give him strength. There really is a grace of office.”