First Impressions of Pope Francis
The papal conclave gave pleasant surprise with the election of the humble man from Buenos Aires. When Jorge Maria Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, appeared on the balcony and prayed before the large crowd filling St. Peter’s Square, we had much to learn about our new Holy Father. Commentators were describing the new pope as a simple-living man of the church who cooked his own meals and rode the bus to work. He was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires!
Now he would lead the Universal Church and, God willing, usher in fair winds to an institution feeling the push of modern hopes while reeling from self-inflicted problems of its bureaucracy. There will be time to dissect all that in the weeks and months ahead.
For these first days of Pope Francis, I want to continue feeling a great hope. I for one greatly welcome the life of simplicity that our new Holy Father brings with him. He made it clear he does so in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi: to cast away a privileged life and to live as simple and deliberate as possible. I want to believe that many of us aspire to this simple life; in a way, it is the spirit of a Catholic rural life formed in communion with the land.
Another special aspect of Pope Francis during his first appearance on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square was his spiritual devotion. He asked for everyone’s prayers, and then led us in reciting the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. For some reason this took me back to my grade school days and saying these prayers over the intercom with the nuns and my classmates. But now I felt this great sense of companionship with Catholics all around the world, brought together by the spirituality of one man.
In the spirit of St. Francis, this dedication to simplicity and spirituality opens the door to compassion. There on the balcony in the cold night air, the Holy Father appeared to me as someone with deep compassion and warmth for the people. The commentators assured us he had great compassion for the poor, and his would be a call to reclaim the church for the poor and downtrodden. We might hear critical voices in the days ahead, but for now I remain hopeful that Pope Francis will find ways to “repair the church” and bring us together as one body.
In the wake of compassion, we are led to peace. No one expresses it better than St. Francis when he prays to the Lord to make him an instrument of His peace. He asks nothing for his own benefit, but for God’s grace the he might console others, to understand others, and to love others. “We have been called to heal wounds,” says St. Francis, “to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
Given that Pope Francis brings both Jesuit training and the Franciscan tradition with him to the Holy See, I would say he will be a strong advocator for service. Whatever Franciscan or Christian virtues we may list, none can be realized without acting in the spirit of social justice. It is the combination of spirit and service that has made people of faith a vital force in the world, both ancient and modern.
Finally, I end these first impressions of new pontiff with a tribute to the conclave choosing a diocesan bishop over the other curial candidates, particularly the “inner circle” of the Roman Curia. As Pope Francis said early in his remarks to the throng of people in St. Peter’s Square that rainy evening, his brother Cardinals almost went “to the ends of the Earth” to get a Bishop for Rome. As a bishop in Latin America, our Holy Pastor now leads us on a journey of simplicity, spirituality, compassion for one another, and service to a world groaning to be reborn.
NCRLC Policy Coordinator