PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 13, 2013

New pope unites first, third world countries

Brooke Crum
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — The cardinals elected Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina pope Wednesday — the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from beyond Europe in more than a millennium — but Bishop Curtis Guillory of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Beaumont marveled more at the man’s humility than his heritage.

Guillory pointed to the simple fact that Bergoglio chose the name Francis, a humble 13th-century Italian preacher who lived a life of poverty by choice — a decision Bergoglio made himself.

Bergoglio rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and frequented the slums that encircle Argentina’s capital, Guillory said. He could communicate with a person on the street or a person in university.

“He’s a pastor. He’s a shepherd. He’s with his people,” he said.

Still, Bergogolio’s nationality did not escape Guillory’s notice. After all, he said, 40 percent of the world’s Catholics reside in Latin America.

“It is, in a sense, uniting first and third world countries,” Guillory said.

But Bergoglio’s election did not unite all the Catholics in the world. In Port Arthur, Cheryl Washington felt that having a black pope would almost be asking the church and Catholics in general to bend too much.

“You have an African American president,” Washington, 42, said. “You can’t have an African American pope, too.”

Although she identified as Catholic and approved of the conclave’s choice, Washington said it could be beneficial to the church if it allowed female priests to serve alongside male priests to balance out the church. Perhaps then priests would not molest boys, she said.

In choosing a 76-year-old pope, the cardinals clearly decided that they didn’t need a vigorous, young pope who would reign for decades but rather a seasoned, popular and humble pastor who would draw followers to the faith and help rebuild a church stained by scandal.

The cardinal electors overcame deep divisions about the future of the church to select the 266th pontiff in a remarkably fast, five-ballot conclave.

Francis asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose stunning resignation paved the way for the conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy. Francis also spoke by phone with Benedict after his election and plans to see him in the coming days, the Vatican said.

“Brothers and sisters, good evening,” Francis said to wild cheers in his first public remarks as pontiff from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the earth, but here we are. Thank you for the welcome,” he said.

In one of his first acts as pope, Francis on Thursday morning planned to visit Benedict at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.

American Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Wednesday night at the North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome, that Francis told fellow cardinals following the conclave that made him pope: “Tomorrow morning, I’m going to visit Benedict.”

The visit was significant because Benedict’s resignation has raised concerns about potential power conflicts emerging from the peculiar situation of having a reigning pope and a retired one.

No such worries troubled people in Francis’ home continent.

Latin Americans burst into tears and jubilation at news that the region, which counts 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, finally had a pope to call its own.

“It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,” said Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar at the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico.

Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict — who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years. The speed with which he was elected pope this time around indicates that — even though he is 76 and has slowed down from the effects of having a lung removed as a teenager — he still had the trust of cardinals to do the job.

After announcing ‘’Habemus Papam” — ‘’We have a pope!” — a cardinal standing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday revealed the identity of the new pontiff, using his Latin name, and announced he would be called Francis.

The longtime archbishop of Buenos Aires is the son of middle-class Italian immigrants and is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.

Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has also shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.  

Bergoglio, who as a teen lost a lung to infection, showed that humility on Wednesday, saying that before he blessed the crowd he wanted their prayers for him and then he bowed his head amid the silence from the crowd.

“Good night, and have a good rest,” he said before going back into the palace.

In choosing to call himself Francis, the new pope was associating himself with the much-loved Italian saint from Assisi associated with peace, poverty and simplicity. St. Francis was born to a wealthy family but later renounced his wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars; he wandered about the countryside preaching to the people in very simple language.

He was so famed for his sanctity that he was canonized just two years after his death in 1226.

St. Francis Xavier is another important namesake. One of the 16th century founders of the Jesuit order, Francis Xavier was a legendary missionary who spread the faith as far as India and Japan — giving the new pope’s name selection possibly further symbolic resonance in an age when the church is struggling to maintain its numbers.

Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially as pope on Tuesday, according to the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Lombardi, also a Jesuit, said he was particularly stunned by the election given that Jesuits typically shun positions of authority in the church, instead offering their work in service to those in power.

But Lombardi said that in accepting the election, Francis must have felt it “a strong call to service,” an antidote to all those who speculated that the papacy was about a search for power.

In an interesting twist the Jesuits were expelled from all of the Americas in the mid-18th century. Now, a Latin American Jesuit has been elected head of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church.

Tens of thousands of people who braved cold rain to watch the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel jumped in joy when white smoke poured out a few minutes past 7 p.m., many shouting “Habemus Papam!” or “We have a pope!” — as the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica and churches across Rome pealed.

After what seemed like an unending wait of more than an hour, they cheered again when the doors to the loggia opened. The cheers became deafening when Bergoglio’s name was announced.

“I can’t explain how happy I am right now,” said Ben Canete, a 32-year-old Filipino, jumping up and down in excitement.

Elected on the fifth ballot, Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Benedict’s surprise resignation.

A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope.

For comparison’s sake, Benedict was elected on the fourth ballot in 2005 — but he was the clear front-runner going into the vote. Pope John Paul II was elected on the eighth ballot in 1978 to become the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

email: bcrum@panews.com

twitter: @broocrum