Enter Pope Francis I

Pope Francis I
Pope Francis I

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, becomes the first Latin American and a Jesuit, elected pope at a conclave that ended after five ballots on March 13. He takes the title of Pope Francis I

|  By Olu Ojewale  |  Mar. 25, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

HIS name was not even among the favourites for the post. But to the surprise of millions of Catholics across the world, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina emerged as the choice of the 115 cardinals that participated in the conclave. Bergoglio, 76, is now Pope Francis I. He is the first Pope in history to take the name Francis, in honour of the 12th century Italian saint from Assisi, who shunned wealth to pursue a life in poverty.

Francis was also the name of a prominent 16th century Jesuit, Francis Xavier, the highly intellectual order to which Bergoglio belongs that preached the Gospel in Asia. Before the conclave that elected him convened, Francis celebrated his 55th year of joining the Society of Jesus, whose members are popularly called Jesuits. Although the group is said to be generally liberal, Bergoglio is on the conservative side of it. The order has seen its once formidable influence wane as the star of Opus Dei rose during the reign of the late John Paul II. The Argentine is also the first cardinal to have been elected pope from Latin America, which has 40 per cent of the population of Catholics in the world, and a first pope born outside Europe in more than a millennium.

In his first address to the crowd in Saint Peter’s Square on Wednesday, March 13, following his election, Francis I remarked about his selection: “It seems that my brother cardinals picked him from almost the ends of the earth (referring to his native Argentina). But here we are! I thank you for the warm welcome… Now, we take up this journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us.”

Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appears at the window of St Peter's Basilica's balcony after being elected the 266th pope
Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appears at the window of St Peter’s Basilica’s balcony after being elected the 266th pope

The new pope is the 266th in the history of the church. Observers say his election was a small revolt against tradition of electing Europeans. The son of Italian immigrants, this, observers say, may assure sceptics that a European is still in the saddle. Although Francis I is expected to continue in the theological tradition as observed by his predecessors, there are many daunting tasks ahead of him, which now Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, could not clear before bowing out of office.

The Argentine, who had served as archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998, is reputed to be a competent administrator, bold in speaking out on controversial issues and lived an austere lifestyle. And being an outsider in the Vatican, it is believed that the new pope will be able to usher in the internal reform and cleanup that critics say the Vatican desperately needs after years of factionalism and scandals. But because of his age, some critics are wondering whether Francis I would make a transitional figure to leave a distinctive legacy.

Some Vatican watchers say the pope will similarly need to deal with the challenge relating to the rapid growing of the flock in some parts of the world while it is disenchanted and shrinking in other parts. Latin America is believed to have started embracing Pentecostalism at the expense of Catholic faith. Among the problems he faces is also how to deal decisively with the legacy of sex abuse scandals that have been rocking the church.

President Barak Obama of the United States, in his congratulatory message, hailed Bergoglio “as a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us” and that his choice was a wise one.  “As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world,” Obama said.

Alfred Adewale Martins, archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, joined other Catholics worldwide to congratulate the new pope. “We are excited that we have a new pope. We have been praying that God will give us a man according to His own mind and heart. We believe that God has answered our prayers and whoever is there, is God’s own plan for the church,” Martins said.

In congratulating the new pope, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, who had clashes with Francis over same-sex marriage legislation, wished “him all the luck in the world in his pastoral mission and what it means for Latin America and Argentina – we hope that it will be significant for our region.”

Bergoglio’s selection came after five rounds of voting. In fact, everyone seemed to have overlooked Bergoglio before the conclave believing that at 76, he was too old and that his moment had passed having been the runner-up to Pope Benedict XVI. Hence, much of the focus had been on Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, and Odilo Pedro Scherer, a Brazilian of German descent, who is the archbishop of Sao Paulo.

“Many had predicted that the cardinals would pick a younger, more physically robust man, to avoid a repeat of Benedict’s relatively short papacy and his decision to resign as a result of declining health. Bergoglio is only two years younger than Benedict was at his election and is said to dislike travel. We don’t know how long his pontificate will last. We may very well be back here in five, six, seven years,” said Matthew Bunson, editor of the Catholic Almanac. But whether that will happen, only time will tell.

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