Catholics welcome first pontiff from the Americans
Gretchen Burns | managing editor
Wednesday saw several firsts in the history of the Catholic Church. As the College of Cardinals elected the 266th Pope, an Argentinian Cardinal by the name of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Pope Francis, 76, is the first Catholic supreme leader from the Jesuit Order, the first non-European in modern times and the first Pope from the American continents. The new Pope has chosen to take the papal name of Francis, after Francis of Assisi, a saint who renounced his family to serve the poor. He is the first Pope to take on the name of Francis.
The name of Francis symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church,” said Vatican scholar John Allen, in an interview with USA Today. “The new Pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual.”
Francis is a conventional choice for the Church. He is a theological conservative, with Italian ancestry, who strongly backs the Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues. His stance on these issues has led to heated clashes with Argentina’s current left-leaning president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Pope Francis, formerly known as Cardinal Bergoglio, has been highly praised as a passionate defender of the poor and disenfranchised. He visited and surprised the staff of Muñiz Hospital in Buenos Aires and asked for a jar of water in 2001. He then proceeded to wash the feet of 12 hospitalized patients that had complications from the virus that causes AIDS. He kissed their feet and told reporters watching that “society forgets the sick and the poor.”
Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires and obtained a masters degree in chemistry before entering the seminary at the age of 21. He is an avid soccer fan: His favorite team is the San Lorenzo club. He is known for the outreach he extends to the country’s poor. He gave up a palace for a small apartment and rode public transportation instead of a chauffeur-driven car and cooked his own meals.
As a student he enjoyed the study not of just theology, but also secular subjects like psychology and literature. He was ordained a priest at the age of 32 and ascended rapidly within Church ranks. By 1973 he was named the Jesuit provincial leader for Argentina. He served as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998.
Francis is being seen as an outsider that may be able to usher in the internal reform and cleanup that the Church is widely said to need after years of factionalism and scandal.
According to various reports, as a cardinal, Pope Francis was a strong opponent to Pope Benedict XVI at the last conclave, with the second highest vote total.