Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Buenos Aires, has been elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, taking the name Pope Francis. He is the first Latin American pope to lead the church, as well as the first Jesuit priest.
Many believe that Pope Francis brings to the papal leadership a new feature of humility and boldness in spirituality. While archbishop in Argentina, he did not live in the archbishop’s palace but chose to live in a small room in a downtown Buenos Aires home, it has been reported. He also cooked his own meals and visited the poor in Argentine slums.
It is also reported that his choice of transportation was to ride the bus rather than to make use of a limo. There were other aspects reported about his humble lifestyle that were different from so many men who rise to the position of bishop, archbishop, cardinal, or even senior pastor regardless of denomination.
Over the years I have encountered a number of men who aspired to an imperial pastorate, living in lavish houses, drawing exorbitant salaries, driving expensive luxury cars, with some even owning jets or helicopters.
Some years ago, I attended a conference at which a nationally known minister was present. He arrived in a chauffeured limousine, was surrounded by an entourage of bodyguards and attendants, and made sure that he was seated in the auditorium where his presence was noticed but where an average person could not get close enough to speak to him.
I have known pastors who take people with them, even on short ventures outside the church building, whose sole role is to carry the clergyman’s Bible and to open doors for him. I have known bishops who refuse to carry their own luggage and have entertained religious TV-types who demanded preferential attention and treated waitresses disgracefully.
The new Pope, by all accounts, appears to be a man of deference, humility, and kindness. He also is a man who is concerned about the poor. In short, he appears to be Christ-like.
In a 2007 address at a large meeting of Latin American bishops, Francis emphasized that belief. “We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” he said. “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, the new pope is expected to uphold church orthodoxy on sexuality, abortion, marriage and contraception.
The same year he said same-sex marriage attacks God’s plan, he also said gay people adopting children is an act of discrimination against children. Yet, he has also shown compassion for people with HIV and AIDS; in 2001, he visited AIDS patients in a hospice where he washed and kissed the feet of 12 patients.
The new Pope will have his hands full as he receives a church rocked by scandal, internal political turmoil, and declining numbers in many parts of the world.
Things will change dramatically for the new Pope. It is far too dangerous a world, populated by too many crazies, to continue to take the bus. Assassination attempts of previous popes mandate the need for security.
He will never again enjoy the blessedness of privacy without making special arrangements. His every word and cough will be recorded and commented upon. But, those whom God calls, God equips.
It is a new day and a new Holy Father for the ancient Roman Catholic Church and for the 1.5 billion Catholics worldwide. May the prayers of all Catholics, and the prayers of all Christians everywhere, surround Pope Francis. May he be a humble and worthy leader.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]