EVEN as a non-Catholic I was excited about the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Pope Francis.
It was the biggest story of the week: the election of a new pope. With pomp, grandeur and lots of prayers, the cardinals chose the first pope from the Americas, Pope Francis, 77 of Argentina to head the world’s 1.2 billion Christians.
It’s a remarkable choice for a devoutly Christian country. The election procedure where cardinals lock themselves in the conclave to confer and discuss issues is a tradition going back to millions of years. After two days of deliberations, white smoke came out of the chimney, signaling that the new pope has been chosen.
While almost 100,000 people watched at St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis came to the balcony amid cheers to speak to them. The new pope also made history by being the first Jesuit to become pope and the first again in choosing the name Francis after a simple
13th century saint. The name fits the personality of the new pope, a simple man who used public transport to get around and who is reported to cook for himself.
“You know that the duty of the conclave is to provide Rome with a bishop, and it looks as if my brother cardinals have gone to the end of the earth to fetch him,” Pope Francis said from the balcony of the Vatican.
The ascendancy of an Argentinean to head the Vatican will have enormous impact worldwide. It will raise the profile of Latin America and the developing world where majority of Canadian immigrants have come. It is a tribute to the cardinals who chose the new pope to come from outside Europe for the first time in 1,000 years – this was also in keeping with the prevalent view among many Catholics.
Pope Francis has tremendous responsibilities in solving many of the problems facing the Church. To start with, Latin America, home to 40 per cent of the world’s Catholics where the church is facing dwindling numbers by losing to Protestant churches and to secularism. In keeping with his nature, Pope Francis will be more caring to the poor and the downtrodden believers.
The Church is also facing contentious issues such as contraception, married priests and female priests and it would definitely fall upon the shoulders of Pope Francis to solve these problems. As a Jesuit, who are considered to be free thinkers and intellectually-inclined, Pope Francis is best suited for the role.
On a personal note, Canadian Christians obviously wanted one of their own and were disappointed when Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec, considered one of the top four or five candidates before the conclave, was not chosen. It was meant not to be and everyone now is happy and pleased with the choice of Pope Francis. The Church in Canada will definitely extend utmost support to the new pope. In a later interview with the Globe and Mail, Cardinal Ouellet said he was “not disappointed and can say that he was relived” for not getting the big job.
There is also an urgent need to clean up and modernize the Vatican. It is an open secret that the church is badly run and needs to reorganize as soon as possible. Pope Francis will also have to clean up sexual and financial scandals plaguing the Church and install confidence among the believers.
Commentators and editorial writers around the world have commented on what Pope Francis’s priorities should be. One suggested “ditching his Italian holiday residence for a southern one, in Latin America, Asia or Africa, would be a start. Rejigging the college of cardinals, a third of whom are Italian, should be a priority. Deal with these, and Francis will have a better chance of getting across his central messages of love and justice.
As the Economist put it, “With John Paul II, the papacy stopped looking like a club for Italians; with Francis it is no longer a club for Europeans. The sight of a southerner in the Vatican will be as important, in its way, as the arrival of the first black man in the White House. ”
The eyes of the world are on Pope Francis. Government officials and Muslim groups have expressed hopes for better, friendlier relations under Pope Francis. The Organization for Islamic Co-operation, a body which represents 57 nations, sent a letter of congratulations to the new pope, wishing for the “relationship between Islam and Christianity will regain its cordiality and sincere friendship.”