May 22, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
He didn't even place in top-contenders lists, but Argentine Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was quickly elected Pope by a conclave in Rome on Wednesday to wild applause by thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square and, no doubt, a rush by millions more to the Internet for mostly mixed information about their new spiritual leader.
But while the first-ever Pope from the Americas might not be a household name outside of Argentina, it seems clear from the speed with which he was elected that his Curia colleagues, who it is said placed him second at the 2005 conclave that elected retired Pope Benedict XVI, had a clear idea of whom and what they wanted.
Canadian Marc Cardinal Ouellet, who had been seen as a strong candidate for the new papacy, indicated what that might have been in a recent CBC interview.
Cardinal Ouellet said issues like the ordination of women were "secondary" to the need for outreach to "unite people with God."
By most accounts, Pope Francis I fits that bill. He opposed the legalization of abortion, gay marriage and adoption and free contraception in Argentina. At the same time, it seems his choice of name, Francis I, after the 13th-century layman preacher and founder of the Franciscan order, was appropriate.
It is widely agreed that he is a humble, self-effacing man known to ride buses to work, make his own meals, shun luxury and practise the outreach he preaches with regular visits to the slums of Buenos Aires as, he says, Jesus would have done.
"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 told priests last year.
Unlike intellectual Pope Benedict, Pope Francis is critical of clergy who concern themselves with doctrine at the expense of pastoral work that increases the flock.
At a time when Catholics, at least in many western countries and in particular in Europe, are turning away from the church in droves, an emphasis on outreach no doubt is useful, but not likely as useful, certainly in the short term, as reform on social issues might be in turning around the trend.
On the other hand, he is the first Pope from the Americas, where 40 per cent of Catholics live, and he is, in a broader sense, the first Pope from the Third World, where Catholicism is not only strong but strengthening.
In his first public appearance at the Vatican after his election, Pope Francis wore plain, simple clothes, addressed the throng in plain language as "ladies and gentlemen" and even told a self-deprecating joke about being from the end of the Earth. It was a good start.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2013 A14