From his first moments as the new pontiff, Pope Francis demonstrated his humility and his belief in the dignity of all humans by bowing as he asked the crowds in St. Peter’s Square to pray over him.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis, pulled the rug out from under most church pundits. Barely on the radar as a possible contender for the papacy, the new pontiff’s quiet and humble ways overshadowed all those who may have been more focused on celebrity, popularity, and Vatican politics.
While a cardinal in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio was a fierce conservative regarding Church doctrine, but also a man unafraid to take on those in his Church who forgot that Jesus Christ reached out to lepers and ate with prostitutes.
“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony; go out and interact with your brothers; go out and share; go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,” Bergoglio told Argentine priests last year.
While he fought same-sex marriage and abortion on the government front in Argentina, Bergoglio also challenged the arrogance within his own Church.
“In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage,” Bergoglio told his priests. “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation.”
Bergoglio compared those who would not welcome new members into the Church to the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, those who were taken with their own importance as they condemned others.
Bergoglio himself has stood out because of his humility. Living in a small apartment, cooking his own meals, and regularly visiting the slums surrounding Argentina’s capital, the new pontiff often rode the bus to work. His decision to wear the simple white cassock as he was introduced to the world as Pope Francissuggests his preference for simplicity.
Sergio Rubin, the new pontiff’s official biographer, said that Bergoglio has exhibited both a sharp political sensibility as well as self-effacing humility. Rubin said he believes former Cardinal Bergoglio would likely urge the Church’s 400,000 priests to go out on the streets to capture more souls, a directive that would be very much in keeping with the Church’s theme of the New Evangelization.
At the same time, Rubin confirms that the new pope is most comfortable having a low profile.
“It’s a curious thing: when bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows,” Rubin said. “This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome.”
Prior to the start of the conclave, Rubin said that while Cardinal Bergoglio was not much on the radar due to his age, 76, he is very popular among the cardinals.
“But he’s going to be very influential in the congress of cardinals, one of those who is most listened to,” Rubin said.
Apparently, Rubin was right.