Habemus Papam Franciscum!

PopeFrancis_001Yesterday, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., 76, was selected by the Cardinal-Electors as the 266th Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, choosing the name Francis after the great humble servant St. Francis of Assisi. He becomes the first Jesuit, the first South American, and the first from the southern hemisphere to be elected Pope.

From the very beginning, when Pope Francis emerged onto the center loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica in the simple white cassock, it was evident that our new Holy Father was going to perform his duties in such a way distinctive from his predecessors. When he asked the crowd that had gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray with him for our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I was furthermore impressed with him. But, what helped me start to recognize the type of leader he would be for our church was his request of the crowd present in the square below him—“before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop.” It was an incredibly moving and emotional moment.

Since news of his election became public, like most Catholics around the world, I have spent every available minute researching Cardinal Bergoglio. According to the biography sent out by the Vatican Press Office shortly after his initial Urbi et Orbi message, Pope Francis was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires to parents of Italian descent; his father immigrated to Argentina from Italy while his mother was born in Buenos Aires to Italian immigrant parents. Pope Francis is one of five children, three of whom are deceased. In an interview with Argentine media, his only remaining sister María Elena said that she had “prayed he wouldn’t be chosen” as Pope because of the tremendous challenges facing the Church. When she found out that the Cardinals had elected him as the new Holy Father, María recalled she wanted to give her big brother a hug.

PopeFrancisFamilyWithin his now-former archdiocese, Pope Francis is already being called “el papa de los villeros”—“the Pope of the slum dwellers”—because of his deep concern and compassion for the poor. As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was very much aware of the plight of the poor within his community and chose to serve them and minister to them in way that truly exemplifies the Gospel message of Christ. He doubled the number of priests serving in the most impoverished areas of Buenos Aires, continually visited those who were imprisoned, and shared in the suffering of those in hospitals. The general consensus amongst the faithful: “Everyone here felt very close to him.”

Throughout his time as Cardinal Archbishop of the Argentine capital, the Holy Father lived in a simple apartment, cooked his own meals, and traveled to work using public transportation. His humility gave him a “closeness with the street” that allowed him to thoroughly recognize and respond to the needs of the people he served. He cherished his people in a way that only a shepherd cares for his sheep: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”—Isaiah 40:11

Ladies and gentlemen, the Holy Spirit has given us a tremendous pastor, a shepherd who will guide the Church of Christ with a firm yet gentle grasp, by compassionately serving those who are most in need, and through teachings that give us courage to embrace the many crosses that may arise along the journey of life. He will strengthen us by his prayers. He will lead by example. He will challenge us to grow in holiness. He will invite us to participate more fully in the life of the Church. And—most importantly—he will teach us what it means to be disciples of the Lord.

Viva il Papa!

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