Pope Francis I appears for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 13. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected the 266th Roman Catholic pontiff. CNS photo/Paul Haring
  • March 13, 2013

ROME - Argentina has given the world a Pope.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 76-year-old Jesuit from Buenos Aires, is now Pope Francis and stands at the centre of the Catholic world wearing the red shoes of the fisherman.

Pope Francis is the first non-European Pope in 1,300 years, the first Jesuit, the first Francis, and the first Pope from a part of the world with the biggest concentration of Catholics.

The journalists, the academics and the experts were all wrong. The 266th Pope is a surprise.

The son of an Italian immigrant who worked on the railway, this is a Pope who has lived most of his 76 years with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Jesuit tradition. He takes the bus to work. He asks permission of the minister of his house before buying a shirt.

He was elected early Wednesday evening in the Sistine Chapel by at least a two-thirds majority of the 115 cardinal electors on the fifth ballot of the papal conclave. He is just two years younger than his predecessor when Benedict became pope in 2005.

Joy greeted the announcement as the enormous crowd in St. Peter’s Square shouted, applauded, laughed and wept. At 8:12 p.m., French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal in the order of deacons, appeared at the basilica balcony and read out in Latin: “I announce to you a great joy: We have a pope!

The most eminent and most reverend lord, Lord Jorge, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Bergoglio, who has taken for himself the name Francis.”

Pope Francis’ first blessing of the city and the world, urbi et orbi, followed. He greeted the crowd and smiled. Then he led the thousands of people in the square in prayer, signalling perhaps that prayer and faith will be the focus of his pontificate.

He has likely been given a mandate by the cardinals to reform the Vatican bureaucracy, whose cliques and rivalries and inner politics have embarrassed the Church often in recent years. Even as the new Pope sits down to read the report of a commission of cardinals on the Vatileaks scandal, Italy awaits publication of volume two of leaked Vatican documents.

A humble, quiet man, Pope Francis is known to live a simple life in his Buenos Aires apartment.

Unconfirmed reports in recent days have said he had the second highest number of votes in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict. But, perhaps due to his age, he was not generally expected to become Pope this time. Following the retirement of Benedict due to age and frailty when he was 85, there are bound to be questions now about the cardinals electing another pope who is nearing 80.

Bergoglio carries with him the Jesuit tradition of commitment to the poor and of dedication to intellectual inquiry. During the Argentine economic crisis, he was a significant voice calling for an economic system that includes everyone, that honours the human dignity of the workers, the poor, women and the disenfranchised.

He is the furthest thing from a Vatican insider. As a cardinal he has been a member of very few and low profile congregations, serving on the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disciplines of the Sacraments, the Congregation for the Clergy, Congregation for Institution of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Choosing the name Francis could be a signal that he sees his mission as cleaning house in Rome. Repair my Church is the phrase most easily associated with St. Francis of Assisi. Or it could be homage to St. Francis Xavier.

Unsurprisingly, the new Pope is considered a conservative. During the 1970s and the military junta in Argentina, Bergoglio was the Provincial superior of the Argentine Jesuits and resisted the movement among his Jesuit brothers toward liberation theology and base communities.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know the reality of poverty.

“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” he told Latin American bishops in 2007.

He was born in Buenos Aires in 1936 and has been archbishop of that diocese since 1998, where he maintains a simple lifestyle.

He co-presided over the 2001 Synod of Bishops and was elected to the synod council, so he is well-known to the world’s bishops. He has also written books on spirituality and meditation and has been outspoken against abortion and same-sex marriage.

In 2010, when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, Bergoglio encouraged clergy to tell Catholics to protest against the legislation because, if enacted, it could “seriously injure the family,”

He also said adoption by same-sex couples would result in “depriving (children) of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother.”

In 2006, he criticized an Argentine proposal to legalize abortion under certain circumstances as part of a wide-ranging legal reform. He accused the government of lacking respect for the values held by the majority of Argentines and of trying to convince the Catholic Church “to waver in our defense of the dignity of the person.”

His homilies and speeches are filled with references to the fact that all people are brothers and sisters and that the Church and the country need to do what they can to make sure that everyone feels welcome, respected and cared for.

He studied and received a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, but later decided to become a Jesuit priest and studied at the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto. He was ordained a priest in 1969 and in 1973, elected superior of the Jesuit province of Argentina and appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992. He was installed as the archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998.

(With files from Catholic News Service)

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