Looking to the Church’s Future


Pope Francis ushers in many firsts for the Catholic Church.

By Michael J. ARVIZU

The election of Pope Francis on March 13 as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholic brings with it a myriad of firsts.

A native of Argentina, Francis is the first ever pope from the New World, and first non-European pope since the eighth century. Francis is the first Jesuit pope, one of only 34 of the church’s 266 popes to belong to a religious order; and he is the first pope to take the name “Francis.”

“The sign of the papal office being exercised by a non-European bishop accentuates that Jesus’ church is indeed universal, embracing all that follow the Gospel of Christ, wherever they may be,” said Rev. Ed Dover, pastor of Montrose’s St. James the Less and La Crescenta’s Holy Redeemer churches. “It is this unity of faith and witness to the apostolic faith that is at the center of his call as the successor of St. Peter.”

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future pope was born in Buenos Aires in 1927 to Italian immigrant parents. A chemist by trade, Bergoglio was ordained a priest in 1969 and elevated to the rank of cardinal in 2001, becoming archbishop of his hometown in 1998.

Bergoglio chose “Francis” as his papal name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a 12th Century monk who rejected a life of wealth to dedicate his life to serving the poor. As a reflection of this, Francis even went so far as to ask his fellow Argentineans to save the money they would otherwise spend on a trip to his installation Mass in Rome and give it to the poor.

“How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor!” Francis said during a papal audience the day after his election.

Jesuits are known for their humbleness and not for their willingness to accept positions of influence and authority. Indeed, from the very moment Francis appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time, he sidestepped tradition by refusing to wear the red ermine-trimmed mozetta; he chose to continue wearing the pectoral cross from his time as archbishop; and he greeted his cardinals, not from the papal throne, but standing. He is known for cooking his own food and taking the bus to work. He will wear a simple fisherman’s ring and don a pair of black shoes given to him by his priest friends instead of the red papal shoes.

As he begins his pontificate, Francis will have to tackle a range of issues, including the sexual abuse scandal, the church’s role throughout the world, social justice, and same-sex marriage.

“The issues that need to be at the center of his pontificate are: an uncompromised preaching of apostolic faith, the spiritual conversion of every human heart, and the moral mandates of the Gospel being lived out in private lives and in public policies,” said Dover. “If these three things are accomplished the rest will follow.”

Francis, in his homily given during his installation Mass, called on all people to be “protectors.”

“It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world,” said Francis. “It means protecting people … caring for one another … building sincere friendships. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!”