Pentin: Rome Stunned, Delighted by Selection of Francis

Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013 06:03 PM

By Edward Pentin

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Edward Pentin reporting from Rome — Stunned but elated can best describe the mood in St. Peter's Square as the name of Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was announced from the loggia of the basilica.

Few of the 100,000-strong crowd who had gathered to welcome the new pontiff were expecting the Argentine cardinal to become Pope in this election. Most observers predicted a younger, more dynamic cardinal, though some had felt Bergoglio had a fair chance, having come second in the conclave of 2005.

But with shouts of “Fran-ces-co” from the Roman crowd, many Italians have already taken him to their hearts, helped by the fact that he has Italian ancestry.

The surprise election also wasn't lost on the Vatican's Jesuit spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, who knows him, though not well. “I'm in shock,” he told reporters shortly after the election. “I'm shocked that he is from Latin America, and by his name.”

Pope Francis I is the first Jesuit to be elected Pope in the order's history, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first pontiff to take the name Francis. It's surprising that a Jesuit has been elected because members of the Society of Jesus are called to be servants of God, but not to be in such authoritative conditions, Lombardi said. “I find it a little strange to have a Jesuit as Pope,” he said, but was clearly moved and delighted by the news.

Lombardi also thought the name appropriate — after St. Francis of Assisi — because Jesuits “serve the Church” like the medieval saint. “It's beautiful that he asked the people to pray for him and bowed to receive their blessing before blessing them,” the Jesuit spokesman added.

Pope Francis I telephoned the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, Wednesday evening and will visit him soon at the papal summer residence where the former Pope is living. The new Pope will celebrate the Angelus on Sunday, and will have an audience with journalists at the Vatican on Sunday morning. Thursday he will celebrate his first Mass with cardinals, and his inauguration Mass is expected to take place Tuesday in St. Peter's Basilica.

The initial response from conservative and progressive wings of the Church has generally been positive, despite Cardinal Bergoglio being held up as the flag-bearer for the liberal wing of the Church in the 2005 election.

A man of deep simplicity and humility, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis I used to cook for himself, ride buses to work, and cared for a disabled priest in addition to all his other duties. But he also made a point of never wanting to live in the Vatican and wished to stay in his homeland.

“If we thought Benedict was an introvert, we all need to be prepared for the real thing now,” Roger McCaffrey, a veteran Church observer and publisher of The Traditionalist magazine, told Newsmax.

But as head of the Jesuit province in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, Bergoglio was known for being a tough administrator and for “cleaning house” — something the cardinal electors are likely to have noticed in their deliberations, given the need to reform the Roman Curia.

He has been strongly pro-life, describing the pro-choice movement as a “culture of death,” opposed the free distribution of contraceptives in Argentina, staunchly defended the rights of the poor, and has spoken out strongly against same-sex marriage.

In 2010, he firmly opposed a bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children, saying it would “seriously damage the family.” He made the statement in a letter addressed to each of the four monasteries in Argentina, asking the contemplatives to pray “fervently” that legislators be strengthened to do the right thing.

“At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children,” he wrote. “At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

The new Pope will be facing many competing challenges when he takes up residence in the Apostolic Palace, such as the increase in secularism. He will have to confront the sexual abuse crisis, and the possibility that more cases will come to light in countries that have so far escaped notice.

Pope Francis will also have a host of other challenges to face: protecting and promoting religious freedom in the Middle East, India and China, not to mention conscience rights in the United States and Europe. In his own Latin America, he will have to contend with the loss of Church members to Pentecostal sects. In Africa and Asia, where the Church is expanding rapidly, he will face the challenges of the effects of poverty, globalization, and inculturation.

On the ecumenical front, the new pontiff can be expected to continue work on improving relations with the Orthodox, Anglicans, and Jews, while continuing Benedict’s work in inter-religious dialogue, particularly with Islam.

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.

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