Thursday, March 14, 2013

A 'first' look at Pope Francis

Habemus Papum!

With those two familiar Latin words, the world of the Roman Catholic church changed.

We have a pope. And with him we have a slew of firsts in an organization that was in dire need of change.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now elevated to Pope Francis, represents a seismic shift for the church in almost every aspect but one.

He is the first pontiff from the new world, the first from outside Europe in nearly an eon.

He is the first Hispanic.

The first Jesuit.

His selection by the cardinals of the church on their fifth ballot seems to offer a sense of the hierarchy of the church realizing its future. My guess is that the selection of a man who has lived his entire life among the people in Argentina is not an accident. The Hispanic community is one of the few places where the church is still growing.

Nor is his selection of his name, after St. Francis of Assisi, who dedicated his life to serving the poor. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he shunned the trappings of his office,  living in a simple apartment, riding the bus to work, and often mingling with the poor, including visits to the slums that ring Buenos Aires.

There is one thing that Pope Francis is not - and it likely stands as the one possible drawback in his selection. He is not young. At 76, there is some surprise that the church, dealing for the first time in about 600 years with the retirement of a sitting pope when Benedict XVI stepped down, did not look to someone younger.

You also have to wonder if Pope Emeritus Benedict now has set a precedent for popes stepping down, instead of dying in office. Will we be going through this process again in a few years?

But all of that is a conversation for another day.

For today, we have a new pope.

And many, many firsts.



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