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Jorge Mario Bergoglio

On Wednesday March 13, 2013 on the second day of the conclave in Vatican City, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio becomes first Latin American and first Jesuit to lead Catholic Church taking name pope Francis the first.

The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires is the first Jesuit and the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been elected the 266th pope, making him the leader of the 1.2 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church.

The challenges ahead

Francis I succeeds Benedict XVI, who stepped down on February 28. His nomination and the fact that he chose the name Francis may well prove to be indicative of something historical.

With the election of the new pope, the Vatican and the Catholic Roman Church will now faces several key challenges. The new pope’s response to those will give us a significant indication of what Catholics can expect from him as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. One key priority of the new pope will be to reach out to his flock of 1.2 billion followers and rebuilding the relationship between the Vatican and churches around the globe.

Much was written about whether the new pope shall focus on pastoral care or try to reform the Vatican. In reality, he needs to do both and merely 12 hours after his election, the new pope quietly left the Vatican early this morning to pray for guidance as he looks to usher a Roman Catholic Church mired in intrigue and scandal into a new age of simplicity and humility. The first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to come from the Americas also takes the title of bishop of Rome and, in his first words to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday evening he made clear that he would take that part of his role seriously.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election has broken Europe’s centuries-old grip on the Roman Catholic Church Papacy; he is also the first to take the name Francis, in honor of the 13th-century Italian saint from Assisi who spurned wealth to pursue a life of poverty. The 266th pontiff in the Church’s 2,000-year history is taking the helm at a time of great crisis. For years now, morale among the faithful followers has been hit by a widespread child sex abuse scandal and in-fighting in the Vatican bureaucracy. When he appeared on the balcony of Saint-Peter’s Basilica yesterday, he urged the huge crowds gathered in the square below to pray for him.

A change of direction

The unexpected election of the new pope is already answering some fundamental questions and announcing some fundamental changes about the direction of the Roman Catholic Church in the coming years.

After more than a millennium of absolute European leadership, the cardinal-electors went to Latin America, to find a new pope, a continent where 42 percent of the world’s Catholics live, and a continent that is more focused on poverty related issues and spiritual values rather than materialism and capitalistic values of the Western world and nations. They also chose a man with long pastoral experience, rather than an academic and Vatican insider. For some, it seems that this pope will be more aware of what life is all about. There will be less rhetorical work and more practical interventions. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born into a family of seven, from an Italian immigrant family. He became a priest at 32, nearly a decade after losing a lung due to respiratory illness. Despite his late start, in 1936, he was awarded the title of Provincial and was leading the local Jesuit community.

The Jesuit order was founded in the 16th century to serve the papacy and always has been best known for its work in education and for the intellectual prowess of its members. As a Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has a reputation as someone never backing up and willing to challenge any powerful interests or ideology. Displaying his conservative orthodoxy, he has often spoken out strongly against gay marriage, abortion and women accessing priesthood.

Before the conclave, the cardinals were divided between the urgency to get the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the Vatican under control or the urgency to revitalize faith across the globe, those who believed the new pontiff must be a strong manager and others who were looking more for a proven pastoral figure. Others believed that the most important factor was the age issue. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the consensus candidate no one expected. The secret conclave began on Tuesday night March 12 with a first inconclusive ballot. Three more inconclusive ballots were held on Wednesday March 13 before he obtained the required two-thirds majority of 77 votes in the fifth and final vote.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a serious rival candidate at the 2005 conclave, but his name had not appeared on lists of possible contenders this time around. Many cardinals had discounted him because of his age. In 2005, he was the runner up, the principal alternative to Joseph Ratzinger his predecessor Benedict XVI, when he told the cardinals:  “Let him have it… I do not want the job”. This time around, not expecting to be elected, after the fact, he told them: “May God forgive you!”

At 76, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first Latin American pope, the first Pope Francis and the first Jesuit pope.

For years Jorge Mario Bergoglio was known as a different kind of Latin American bishop, a reserved man of theological sophistication challenging the privileged in the name of the poor and the oppressed. He famously laid aside the material comforts of his office, leaving the archbishop’s mansion empty to live in a simple apartment, cooking his own meals and taking the bus to his meetings.

While it is still too early to tell, how he will he lead the Roman Catholic Church, his first public appearance sent a clear message: on the balcony, facing the crowd, he appeared in the simple papal cassock, declining to wear the accompanying red shoulder cape that his predecessors have always worn. Additionally, he declined to use the term “pope emeritus” referring to him instead as “bishop emeritus,” the bishop of Rome.

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The Preacher

 

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