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Pope Francis I: A New Pope from the New World!
13 March 2013 was not a “business as usual” day in the life of the Catholic Church. The election of a Successor to St. Peter as Bishop of the Church of Rome that, by the will of Jesus Christ, presides over the Church of Rome and the entire Church in charity, is always a moment of profound grace, a moment in which the Holy Spirit is powerfully present. It is normal, then, that everything all over the Catholic world come to a screeching halt to receive the grace offered to each of us in the gift of a new Holy Father.
This Pope is different, however!
For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, someone from the New World AND from the southern hemisphere has been elected to the Chair of St. Peter. We have a New Pope from the New World! If we remember that America includes North, Central and South America, we can acknowledge in all truth that we now have an American Pope, an American who is son of Italian immigrants to Argentina.
For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, we have a Pope who has chosen to be named “Francis” after the young man from Umbria who heard the call of Christ to rebuild His Church and whose only desire was to be totally and literally conformed to Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Francis of Assisi, in imitation of Jesus Christ, was a poor man who understood poverty (of spirit and in fact) to be key to the person and identity of Jesus Christ, key to our ability to reconcile with one another, and hence key to the establishment of fraternal communion. Just as Jesus was Son of the Father, so for Francis the constitutive relationship of his life was with God the Father. Just as Jesus was poor in emptying himself, “taking the form of a slave and being born in human likeness” (Phil 2. 7), so Francis embraced poverty, enabling him to receive everything and every moment as a gift from God his Father and making gratitude the fundamental attitude of his life. The humility of Jesus’ self-emptying moved Francis to establish himself and those who followed him not only as brothers to all, but as minor brothers to all.
In his first gestures and words to the entire world, Pope Francis I revealed himself to be a man who transpires the spirit of his patron. Pope Francis’ first words were words of gratitude to the people of Rome gathered in the piazza below him for them receiving him. The first prayers he led as Bishop of Rome were common prayers that all people of faith and goodwill know; and fittingly enough, the first of these was the Our Father. Pope Francis referred to himself as Bishop of the Church of Rome “which presides over all the Churches in charity,” and called our attention to the fact that now “we begin this walk together.” While he, as Bishop of Rome, presides over all the Churches, he expressed his “presidency” as one that he intends to exercise by walking with the Church. He characterized the walk of the Church, in particular his walk with the Church of Rome, as one of brotherhood, love and mutual trust.
As though all these words were not enough to establish himself as a brother to and servant of the People of God, he bowed his head and asked the People of God to pray for God’s blessing on him before he solemnly (and simply) blessed the People of God.
These words from the Gospel of St. Luke come to mind:
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. "You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22. 24-32)
Let us pray in gratitude for the powerful testimony to the Gospel that Pope Francis I has already offered the entire People of God in so brief a moment, and pray that the Holy Spirit might ever sustain him in his ministry of strengthening the faith of the Church of Rome and the entire Church. Would that each of us would embrace the Gospel, be converted, and so become “confessors” of Jesus Christ in the Spirit today!