Francis: The First

He’s the first from his country, his continent, his hemisphere.  He’s the first from his order and the first of his name.  He also followed the first resignation in centuries. Francis I election to the papacy last Wednesday evidently marked a series of changes for the Catholic Church.  What, however, is the impact and importance of these changes? Do they represent a true ideological shift or merely a cosmetic makeover?  The answers to these questions rely entirely on how the new Bishop of Rome chooses to lead his people.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 74, became the first Argentinian pope in history.  His career has been impressive and unique in many ways.  There are two issues that have animated his career, that seem especially well to represent the manner in which he will live out his papacy.  The first is of a spiritual nature; the second of a practical nature.

First, he has called for a push towards Evangelization.  He has explained that Catholics cannot fully serve Jesus without proclaiming his name and message.

Second, the issue that seems most likely to define his papacy is evident in his name.  The Jesuit took the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, in order to remember the poor.  From the first moment of his papacy, it became clear that Pope Francis I would be fully embrace humility.  A closer look at his history and teachings demonstrates that this is in fact the case.  As a priest, Bishop, and Cardinal, he has spoken of the inequality found especially in Latin America. Some theologians say Pope Francis is currently is in a position to teach and explain Catholic Social Teaching in light of this injustice.

Humility and care for the poor are certainly not unique to the Catholic Church.  However, the specific focus by a pope is a shift from the papacy of Benedict XVI, who was principally focused on Catholic tradition throughout his papacy.

Thus, Francis I appears to be taking the church down a relatively new path.  With a renewed focus on Charity and Love, the Catholic Church might be heading towards an identity more akin to the church of the time of St. Augustine.  At that time, the Christian faith was unique in the way its people chose to care for their neighbors.  Already, the Vatican has begun to become more accessible through social media (including the Twitter account created by Villanova Communications interns).  With a new way of teaching that is understanding and appreciated universally, Francis I may be able to reverse the trends occurring in the Catholic church of diminishing practice of the faith.

It is also important to note that Pope Francis is, unsurprising, theologically conservative, maintaining his predecessors’ stance on homosexuality, the ordination of women, celibacy of the clergy, and abortion.  However, these controversial issues have thus far not appeared at the center of Francis’ teaching, replaced instead with the aforementioned spirituality and social justice.

As Nova students, especially those who have just returned from service break trips, the initiative to emphasize service and charity may strike a chord.  Perhaps the emphasis on the poor will reignite the religious interest of young Catholics within this community and within others.  In time, the true course of Pope Francis I’s papacy will be visible. At the moment, all that is clear is that new horizons seem closer than they have before.



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