Even as a rising chorus of observers, commentators and prognosticators were about to write off the Catholic Church as a mere relic of the past, due to its catalog of recent scandals and the growing indifference of many toward the Church, something extraordinary happened. A humble man from Argentina, a pastor with a special love for the poor, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., was introduced as our new Pope. He had chosen the name Francis.
When Pope Francis stepped onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica and stood quietly before the crowd gathered in the square, and indeed before the whole world, it was clear that something new and of great significance was occurring. Yes, he is our new pope. But beyond that mere fact, I had the sense of something more. Perhaps the fact that I knew next to nothing about him piqued my interest and fascination. My first question was, “Who is this man?” This is the question on all of our minds. He is our Holy Father. We already love him. But we want to get to know him. We were struck by his serenity, his simplicity, his evident humility. I was deeply touched by his profound bow when he asked the world to pray for him.
While it is not ours to know what transpired during the conclave, it is evident that the Holy Spirit has intervened in a surprising way guiding the choice of the cardinal electors toward Cardinal Bergoglio. He is an outsider. He never held a position in the Vatican curia. He is the pope of many firsts: first non-European in more than a millennium, first pope from the Americas, first Jesuit pope, first pope to choose the name Francis.
His choice of a name has provoked intense interest among the faithful, among other Christians and even non-believers. During a Saturday meeting with journalists after his election he shared personally how he came to choose this name. During the papal voting Cardinal Bergoglio was seated next to Cardinal Claudio Hummes, whom he described as a “dear, dear friend.” In his own words, “When things were getting a little ‘dangerous’, he comforted me. And then, when the votes reached the two-thirds, there was the usual applause because the Pope had been elected. He hugged me and said: ‘Do not forget the poor.’ And that word stuck here (tapping his forehead); the poor, the poor. Then, immediately in relation to the poor, I thought of St. Francis of Assisi. … And so the name came to my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards Creation. … Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”
By the accounts of his first gestures as pope, his first homilies and addresses, it is apparent that this theme is likely to become one of the hallmarks of this new pontificate. At the time of his conversion St. Francis of Assisi received a special mandate from the Lord, “Francis, rebuild my Church.” St. Francis was chosen by the Lord to bring about a great renewal within the Church in his time. It seems to me that there is already evidence of a fresh breeze blowing through the Church at this moment, the breath of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is still at work renewing, sustaining and guiding the Church.
Pope Francis has humbly asked us to pray for him. Let us do so. The obstacles he faces are great. The burdens and challenges of the Petrine office are unimaginable. But the future is in God’s hands. God has entrusted the Church to the care of Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Viva il Papa!