I've spent an rather exciting evening in front of the t.v. watching, first the white smoke issue from the chimney and then waiting to see who had been elected. I was completely shocked, I hadn't even considered that it might be Jorge Bergoglio, the self-effacing Jesuit from Argentina.
Now I feel somewhat underwhelmed, having spent the last few weeks praying for Scola as my adopted Cardinal, and reading about Ouellet, Tagle, O'Malley. Then someone I haven't even heard of is elected: who is this man?
When he came out onto the balcony I was a bit perplexed that he was not wearing the papal mozzetta and that he took off the papal stole immediately after giving the blessing. I was worried because it felt like an immediate repudiation of the liturgical return to signs and symbols which had been one of the hallmarks of Pope Benedict XVI's reign. I felt a bit panicked.
However, after a couple of days of reading everything I can about Pope Francis, I am starting to feel much better. I think that my initial reaction was probably born of my love and respect for Benedict XVI who, as a Cardinal, I had read and felt I knew before his elevation, combined with my lack of knowledge of Bergoglio. We always fear what we do not know, which was one of the reasons I tried to get to know all the candidates before the conclave began.
In fact, Bergoglio seems to be an incredible man, able to live out a simple Christian calling even while holding high office within the Church. Somewhat immune to the worst entrapments of the establishment that worry me so much about anyone in high office: a temptation to cosy up to the establishment. To appear reasonable, to compromise doctrine for a more genial appearance. After years as an archbishop, this man seems untouched by corruption. Power does not seem to have turned his head thus far in his career.
So what do we know?
He was born in Argentina on the 17th December 1936 to Italian immigrant parents. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1958 having already graduated with an MSc in Chemistry from Buenos Aires University, so he is a scientist as well as a theologian. I think that is significant in the current melee where the New Atheists are trying to suggest that science is at odds with belief in God. Pope John Paul the Great did address this from a philosophical perspective in Fides et Ratio, but perhaps Pope Francis will be able to add a scientific perspective?
His Jesuit credentials sit well with me too. I was educated by the Jesuits and know that Pope Francis can call on the spiritual heritage of St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Edmund Campion, and St. Francis Xavier (among others). We might consider that The Jesuits have got a bit lost here in the west, but I still feel that their heritage stands for intellectual rigour, being heavily involved in the Second Vatican Council. Add to that loyalty to the pope, and their Counter-Reformation history—the period after the Reformation when there was an explosion of new orders and internal reform within the Church. I think this Counter-Reformation dimension is interesting, especially in the context of the hopes that Pope Francis will reform the curia.
Apparently the Vatican has confirmed that he has chosen his papal name in deference to St. Francis and this is another connection with Counter-Reformation and with me, as Francis was the Confirmation name I chose. My reasons for choosing Francis were because of his uncompromising adherence to the call of Christ. The saint gave up everything and tried to follow the Gospel in as real a way as possible. I always considered he rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in. St. Francis to me means asceticism, poverty, service, integrity, simplicity, wisdom. This is a very good sign I think!
With regard to the Traditionalists who have expressed concerns, I would point out that a little investigation has demonstrated that Pope Francis knows the Byzantine liturgy—he was concurrently named ordinary for Eastern Catholics in Argentina, who lacked their own prelate. This means that he is able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and thus can hardly be against more traditional liturgy.
Indeed, within 48 hours of Summorum Pontificum, he arranged Mass in the traditional Roman Rite.
In Argentina, Bergoglio has walked his talk big style. He has been there when it mattered, in a quiet manner, ministering to the sick and poor in a way that makes it very difficult to question his sincerity and faith. This is definitely important and needed, he lives the Gospel, we can see in his life a model for all of us who are trying to live like Christ. Is this man now offering his remaining years as a libation for the Church of His beloved Jesus Christ?
So now I am starting to feel good about this, I am starting to feel positive and impressed. I am starting to see that we can learn a great deal from this man and I look forward to journeying with him over the coming years.
God bless you Holy Father!