Given my personal context and the theological and social issues I am grappling with this semester, I have some interesting thoughts, first impressions, and hopes for this new era of our Roman Catholic faith which he will usher in with his leadership.
- I just read a quote from then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to his brother Latin American Bishops during a 2007 conference:
"We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least. The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers."
No matter what, for the first time or at least the first in a long time, our designated human leader of our global church has lived in a reality outside of Western Europe. He has confronted the reality of poverty and the impacts of colonialization and institutional racism and named it as social sin. There are mixed reports on how he integrated and acted upon this experience. One the one hand, apparently when provincial of the Jesuits during the civil war he did not allow his brothers to move to base communities but rather required them to stay in parishes. On the other hand, he apparently lives very simply and rejects many of the trappings of clericalism and privilege. We can debate what this means, but I find it very significant and hopeful that the man chosen to be our spiritual leader has at the very least had to grapple with these realities in his own life and in his service of God and the church.
- The name. Francis. My first though of course was St. Francis of Assisi and his call to "rebuild my church." Given that he is a Jesuit, of course, my second thought was St. Francis Xavier, the missionary and evangelizer to Asia. My next thought was remembering how important both of those figures were to the founder of my own religious community, Margaret Anna Cusack, whose religious name was Mother Francis Clare and who promised to name the first convent of her religious community after St. Francis Xavier. Both/and. Either/or. Whether it is one or both or some other Francis, there is a significance to the name. He is the 266th man to hold that office and the first to choose this name. This is a name with resonance beyond the boundaries of our church. I think of the interfaith prayer gatherings in Assisi. The statues of Francis that adorn gardens. The connection to creation. The love of peace in the church and in society. Names are powerful, and names connote memories, connections, hopes and dreams, as this paragraph attests. No doubt this fact was not lost on him as he chose his name.
- The blessing. As I said, our class break this afternoon coincided with his appearance on the balcony, so I was able to hear his first words as Pope Francis. I was very touched that his first words were one of relationship. Speaking to those gathered in the square and around radios, tvs, and computer screens across the globe, his first words were not a proclamation or a pre-planned script, but rather a favor. He asked us to bless him before he blessed us. This strikes me as significant and hopeful.