Pope Francis was born Wednesday in a cloud of white smoke, when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio ascended to the papacy. Bergoglio is the first pope to take the name Francis. It could be viewed as symbolic. His Holiness is the first-ever Jesuit pope, the first pope from South America, and the first pope from the southern hemisphere. He succeeds Benedict XVI, the first pope to step down in 598 years. And Francis is the first non-European pope in 1,200 years.
Pope Francis holds traditional societal views and could very well put an end to the church's slow progression toward the modern world. This is a positive thing: there is a misconception that progress is always good. He opposes abortion and euthanasia, and he is not swayed by popular movements. He stood firm against gay marriage, earning the ire of the Argentine government.
It is refreshing in this day and age of political correctness to have a pope with the courage to call things by their real names, even when those names describe the powerful, the famous, and the beautiful, and even when they are trademarked by wealthy corporations. It's probably inappropriate to say, but it makes me think of a line in a Johnny Cash song: A spirit who would not bend or break, Who would sit at his father’s right hand.
The pope will uphold tradition, but expect him to do more than simply maintain the status quo. He chose his name in honor of Francis of Assisi, the saint who shunned worldly comforts for a life of poverty. His Holiness is a fierce advocate for the poor and disadvantaged. In 2001, Francis remarked bitterly that while poor people are persecuted for demanding work, rich people are applauded for fleeing from justice. He did not mince words when he spoke to wealthy listeners: “You avoid taking into account the poor. We have no right to duck-down, to lower the arms carried by those in despair.”
This isn't lip service to the poorest among us. Francis rejected the luxuries he earned through his senior status and a lifetime of devotion to the Catholic Church. He opted instead for an ascetic existence: he chose a one-bedroom apartment over the archdiocesan palace, the bus over the Church’s limousine, and he cooked for himself rather than accepting the servants the Church would supply.
The Catholic Church is in grave distress. There is a desperate need for a man who is willing to confront the ills in society — moreover, a leader who will address the crimes committed by the priests within the church. We need someone who will make difficult decisions to do what is right even when it is not popular. Francis must be that man. God help the Catholic Church if he is not.
Pope Francis emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time this evening, and gave a blessing to the crowds who had been waiting in the square for hours in the rain. Then he spoke to the world’s billion Catholics who have been waiting for an eternity for a strong leader to emerge. “My brother cardinals have chosen one who is from far away,” he said. “But here I am.”