THANK GOD FOR POPE FRANCIS
By Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.
As I reflect upon the election of the new Pope, I cannot help but believe that it was in every respect, divinely inspired. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the perfect man for the contemporary Papacy. His concern for the poor and marginalized, his manifest love of people, and his authentic life of poverty and simplicity have already begun to restore credibility to a Church injured by scandal. Through his loving and faith-filled presence, people can see the Holy Spirit alive in the Church and they express their excitement about him openly. Virtually every homily and statement he makes includes a reference to the unconditional mercy and love of God – so central to his own spiritual life. I think the Church’s’ image and reality will begin to shine through this open, friendly, transparent, humble, loving presence who does not shy away from the press or the outside world.
Pope Francis brings a host of other gifts and talents along with his authentic spiritual presence. He is a true intellectual who has completed graduate work in chemistry, and has a high regard and capability for scientific inquiry. He has also done graduate studies in philosophy and doctoral studies in theology (in Germany) and is fluent in six languages (Spanish, Latin, Italian, German, French, and English). He is capable of engaging in and dialoguing with the scientific and academic worlds, and will be an outstanding leader in the intellectual evangelization efforts initiated by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. This will be very important to the Church in Europe and North America which have become increasingly beleaguered by unbelief – particularly among their younger members.
Pope Francis has published ten books on spiritual conversion, political and economic philosophy in the age of globalization, and philosophy of education. This gives him a remarkably deep preparation to lead the Church in both the northern and southern hemispheres. He will be an outstanding guide in helping to resolve problems of global economic inequalities, social injustice, and violations of fundamental human rights.
He also has a firm foundation in the fundamental principles governing the culture of life and the sanctity of marriage. He has articulated well his position against abortion, contraception, and same sex parenting, all of which he believes disorient and undermine the human heart as well as world culture. For Pope Francis, culture is a dynamic spirit within society that ought to be calling us to our highest selves (self-sacrificial love reflecting the transcendent dignity and mystery in which we are created) and away from our lower selves that mire us in narcissism. I think our new Pope will present a significant challenge to the current direction of world culture, and will be a light of Christ’s truth to the world.
Pope Francis has more than an abundance of administrative experience. He became Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Argentina only five years after his ordination, and was Superior of the major seminary for many years after that. He has been Archbishop of Argentina for fifteen years, and has held many different leadership positions within the College of Cardinals and the international community of Bishops. He not only has vast administrative experience; but is also capable of using it wisely and strongly. He is not afraid to challenge or confront Church or secular leaders when he believes that improvements need to be made. It has been widely commented that the Roman Curia is in serious need of reorganization, and that some of the fiefdoms and bureaucratic centers need both realignment and “fresh minds.” Pope Francis seems to have the unique combination of deep respect and love for his colleagues as well as the “no nonsense approach to leadership” that will be indispensable for one of the most important tasks of his Papacy.
All this – and an Argentinian Jesuit besides!! I do not think we can underestimate the importance of having a Pope from Latin America (where 40% of the world’s Catholics reside) and also from the Southern Hemisphere which represents the world in which the Catholic Church is growing at a very rapid rate. Furthermore, I see Pope Francis’ Jesuit background as a great strength. He brings to the Papacy a deeply appropriated Ignatian contemplative spirit, a deep love of the Church (inspired by St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises), a life authentically committed to the preferential option for the poor, and a love of intellectual repartee (which he has no doubt contended with at the Jesuit dinner table for decades). I think this makes him deeply spiritual, flexible, pastorally engaging, intellectual, and in some senses, fearless.
If my assessment of Pope Francis is correct, then I believe that the Conclave of Cardinals could not have been other than divinely inspired. The gifts that this extraordinary man brings to the Church will be indispensable to its future – both within and outside of it. Both Catholics and non-Catholics would be well advised to pray for his long life and his continued inspiration by the Holy Spirit.