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Pope Francis


The last thing I expected from the conclave was a Jesuit Pope. But that is what the 115 cardinals gave us. I did not even know that there was a Jesuit among the 115 gathered in the Vatican. I first heard that there was at least one during a dinner conversation the Sunday before with a French Jesuit, who told me about the Jesuit cardinal of Buenos Aires. But I promptly forgot about him.  Last Tuesday I went to bed not expecting that I would be greeted with the jaw-breaking news that a Jesuit had been elected pope for the first time in the history of the Church.

The new Pope has taken the name Francis, after Francis of Assisi, as if to tell fellow Jesuits perhaps that, no, Ignatius did not mean this office to be for Jesuits; and perhaps to remind Jesuits of the occasionally rocky history of the order in its relation with the papacy.

Recall that a pope once decreed the abolition of the Jesuit Order but on condition, by the grace of God, that the decree would have no effect in areas if it is not promulgated by the local sovereign. The order survived under the empress of Russia who did not promulgate the decree. But the Jesuits did not escape expulsion from the Spanish possessions. It took about a hundred years before they could come back to the Philippines.

More recently the Jesuit Order was in trouble again. For a while it was placed by Pope John Paul II under some kind of “receivership” before it could be allowed to elect the successor of Father General Pedro Arrupe.

Happily, things have changed. I guess we have been found to be in good behavior after all. Now, wonder of wonders, the new Pope is a Jesuit!

What kind of pope will this Jesuit be? Very much like Francis of Assisi whom, of course, Ignatius himself admired very much. We get a glimpse of this from the humility and simplicity of the new Pope’s  urbi  et  orbi  address on the day of his election. He said, as translated by BBC:

“Good evening!

“You know that the duty of the conclave was to provide Rome with a bishop. It looks as if my brothers, the cardinals, went to fetch him from the end of the world!

“I’d like to thank you for your welcome. The people of Rome: thank you!

“I’d like to pray for Benedict XVI. Let’s pray altogether for him so that the Madonna can look after him.”

[Then Pope Francis said the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Gloria.]

“And now let’s start working together, walking together, in the Church of Rome.

“This is the path of brotherhood and trust. Let’s pray for each other because of the great brotherhood of the world. I pray the path will be fruitful for this beautiful city.

“Now I will bless you. But I’d like to ask you a favor, for your prayer to bless me as your bishop. Let’s pray silently, your prayer for me.

[The stole was put around his shoulders.]

“I am going to bless you all and the entire world—all the men and women of good will…

[The Pope gave his urbi et orbi blessing, to huge cheers.]

“I’m going to leave you now. Good night, and I wish you peace.”

Little by little, people will get to know him better and what to expect of his papacy, as his speeches and writings while he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires come to light. Here are some samples that have come out in translation:

“We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one.”

He describes what it was like in Buenos Aires:

“Instead of just being a Church that welcomes and receives, we try to be a Church that comes out of itself and goes to the men and women who do not participate in parish life, do not know much about it and are indifferent towards it. We organize missions in public squares where many people usually gather: we pray, we celebrate Mass, we offer baptism which we administer after a brief preparation.”

The following is specially precious:

“The cardinalate is a service, it is not an award to be bragged about. Vanity, showing off, is an

attitude that reduces spirituality to a worldly thing, which is the worst sin that could be committed in the Church.  … Spiritual worldliness is a form of religious anthropocentrism that has Gnostic elements. Careerism and the search for a promotion come under the category of spiritual worldliness. An example I often use to illustrate the reality of vanity, is this: Look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth… Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them.”

A good summary, perhaps, of his preferred apostolic style is the following:

“Jesus did not preach his own politics: He accompanied others. The conversions He inspired took place precisely because of His willingness to accompany, which makes us all brothers and children and not members of an NGO or proselytes of some multinational company.”

We should have interesting years ahead! A Jesuit Pope who names himself after a Franciscan who was a great reformer on the radical side of the Gospel is bound to produce some surprises.

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