For over 1,000 years, the Bishop of Rome, Pontiff of the Catholic Church, has come from Europe. In a papal conclave today, Cardinals broke that tradition and named Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th Pope of the Church. He takes St. Peter’s seat as Pope Francis.
Latin America is home to 40% of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Selecting Cardinal Bergoglio as the next Pope is recognition of the growing influence of the Church in the developing world. It is also recognition of the developing world’s growing influence in the Church.
Pope Francis himself is an embodiment of this change. Although he was born in Buenos Aires, his parents were immigrants from Italy. He is Latin American with Italian heritage. He is almost a personification of the evolving Church.
Pope Francis’s elevation is historic for another reason. He is the first Jesuit Pope. The Jesuits are in many ways the philosophers of the Church. Their influence over the orthodoxy and teachings of the Church has been so powerful that the leader of the Jesuit order is jokingly referred to as the “Black Pope.”
Pope Francis is known for his humility. After elevation to Cardinal by Pope John Paul II, Francis declined use of a church limousine, getting around instead by bus and public transit. The demands of the papacy will no longer afford him that option.
None of us can fully appreciate the weight that has been placed on the humble Cardinal’s shoulders. The Cardinal has ceased to be a man. Pope Francis, however, rises to become a beacon for people of all faith.
May God be with him.