Pope with many Faces & Firsts
It looks Holy Spirit has selected the right man for Papacy in a globalised world. Unlike the much talked about Arab Spring, will he succeed to bring about a Vatican Spring of collegiality, co-responsibility, transparency and free dialogue envisioned by the Council?
God Bless and Long Live the 266th POPE FRANCIS I (Jorge Mario Bergoglio 76), a providential confluence of many FIRSTS: First to assume the name Francis loaded with multiple spiritual connotations, first progressive and conservative Argentinean, first Latin American, first from outside Europe and first Jesuit to become Pope, first Pope with a single lung, first pedestrian cardinal who sold his Episcopal palace to live in an apartment cooking own food and travelling by bus to witness his option for the poor following the example of Jesus who came to serve, not to rule, first Pope to ask his people to bless him first before he blesses them, first Pope, who reportedly advised through his envoys to urge Argentineans not to fly to Rome to celebrate his Papacy, but instead donate that money to the poor.
Nay last year he even created a storm in a tea cup of smooth, cosy relations in Episcopal brotherhood when he accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes. That could have been why he was not lucky to find a place in the short listed group of potential Popes although he was the runner up close on the heels of Benedict XVI in the 2005 conclave.
"Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit," he had told Argentina's priests last year.
Choice of Name: Francis
First let us take the name he chose. What is in a name? Everything, according to the Latin Maxim: "Nomen est omen" - a name is a sign – conveying a powerful message like: “Peter, thou art Rock”. It is as valid today for popes as it was for ancient Roman emperors to proclaim their power and position. Bergoglio chose the name of the 12th century “Poverillo of Assisi”: Francis, who become the epitome of humility, sweet simplicity and poverty, yes of that Francis who was born of a very rich cloth merchant father, but had the audacity to leave behind to his father, even the clothes he was wearing and run away naked to rather “marry his lady poverty” in order to rebuild the crumbling God’s church of his times than be a slave to his father’s riches.
The whole world knows that no one has imitated Jesus so closely and intimately as Francis did and so was known as “Second Christ.” Hence I was forced to dare and write earlier that I looked for the outstanding traits of Jesus, especially those of his Foot-washing ministry in the new Pope.
So when I heard the new Pope took the name Francis, I was simply overwhelmed and thought my dream already came true. But a second thought, if the Pope being a Jesuit could be referring to the world trotting 15th century Spanish Jesuit missionary evangelist: “Francis Xavier” troubled me. But he was not. So my mind wanted to include him also in the ambit of his name since Xavier was the second great missionary to India after the Doubting Thomas. And who can ever forget Francis Xavier’s penetrating exhortation and exclamation: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”
Progressive and Traditional
According to reports, the former cardinal of Buenos Aires is said to be both progressive and conservative selectively. That may be the right way of following a middle course avoiding extremes, in the spirit of the wise counsel: Virtus Stat in Medio – virtue stands in the middle. On doctrinal issues Pope Francis has been opposed to liberation theology in general, gay or same sex marriage, abortion, free distribution of contraceptives to all by government, ordination of women etc. following in the footsteps of Emeritus Pope Benedict. In fact he called adoption of children by same-sex couples as “a war against God.” For this conflict with the dictatorial government in Argentena, present president Christina Fernandes compared Francis’s times to those of "medieval times and the Inquisition."
In this context his leftist critics accuse him for not doing enough for the two young Jesuits Orlando Yorio and Franciso Jalics kidnapped by the brutal right-wing Junta for torture. It was during 1976 to1983 called Argentina’s “Dirty War” period when some 30,000 people died or disappeared. Vatican has firmly rejected this allegation because these two were released after five months, reportedly thanks to Bergoglio’s pleadings with Jorge Videla, head of the Junta.
According to Pope’s biographer Sergio Rubin as Cardinal he advocated some aspects of liberation theology and used Jesus Christ's teachings to justify fight against social injustices. Equally he has been tough on hard-line conservatives among his clerics who refused to baptise children of unmarried women. "These are today's hypocrites; those who clericalize the church," he told his priests. "Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!" So Director of Catholic Voices USA, a pro-church group said of him: “He is a real voice for the voiceless and vulnerable.”
In addition in 2001 he was reported to have washed the feet of 12 HIV patients in Muniz Hospital, Buenos Aires and kissed them telling reporters that “society forgets the sick and poor”. I was just prayerfully dreaming in my last piece that the Pope going to be elected should be “a foot-washing minister always like Jesus, not on Holy Thursdays only” and here I am presented with Pope Francis doing just that to HIV patients, not in the sacred precincts of a Cathedral but in the sick surroundings of a hospital. That left totally confused about its portents except say simply: “Thank God!”
As cardinal he has been most uncomfortable with exhibitionism of worldly splendour and pomp in the church. His personal style has been the antithesis of Vatican ways. His biographer Rubin says: "It's a very curious thing. When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome." He is said to be a Pope with a single lung because due to an infection when he was a teenager one of his lungs had to be removed.
Preaches with Deeds
St. Francis told his followers to go to the ends of the world preaching the good news but never to open their mouth, meaning they should preach with their example, with their deeds, their way of life. Pope Francis I, demonstrated it in practice at his first appearance after election. He asked his admiring crowd to first pray for him in silence for few moments and then to bless him, before he gives them his blessing, Urbi et Orbi (city and world). He then bend himself forward, bowed his head and stayed with folded hands for a few moments to receive their blessing. Only after that he blessed them. In doing so was he not also acknowledging the equality and priesthood of all believers in Jesus called to pray and bless others?
Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio is the son of an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin. He has four brothers and sisters. Originally he planned to become a chemist, but in 1958 he joined the Jesuits. He was always in the forefront to promote social justice. "We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least. 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," Bergoglio had told a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007.
In principle he is said to oppose International Monetary Fund and Neoliberalism. His personal delight is to spend much of his precious time in the slums. Doesn’t he deserve the prayers, good wishes and moral support of people of good will all over the world? May the Lord bless and prosper his foot-washing Vicar, to inspire and lead the people of God here on earth.
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
With Warm Regards,
Dr. James Kottoor,
Dr. James Kottoor,