VATICAN CITY – A hierarchy looking to make a clear statement about where the troubled church is headed chose on Wednesday (March 13) the first member of the influential Jesuit order to be the next pope. Yet they also chose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a humble man who lives simply and took the name Francis (also a first) that evokes the founder of another great religious order.
The College of Cardinals picked the first non-European in modern times, as well – yet he is the son of Italian immigrants and grew up in Argentina, perhaps the most European of any country in Latin America.
And the cardinals above all wanted a pastoral figure who would project an image of vigor and warmth to the world after the eight-year reign of Pope Benedict XVI — an introverted, gaffe-prone German theologian who was 78 when he was elected and retired last month at 85, saddled by the burdens of this very public office.
Yet in his stead they chose a soft-spoken 76-year-old who has been rapped for rarely cracking a smile — an image that Bergoglio did little to dispel with his low-key introduction as Pope Francis to the expectant crowd in St. Peter’s Square on a rainy Roman evening.
“Buona sera,” Francis said in deliberate, word perfect Italian, with just a slight Spanish accent. “You all know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him … but here we are.”
So what, in fact, does the election of Francis say about the Catholic Church at this point in its history?
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Argentine Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope Wednesday and chose the papal name Francis, becoming first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium.
A stunned-looking Bergoglio shyly waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square, marveling that the cardinals had had to look to “the end of the earth” to find a bishop of Rome.
He asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose stunning resignation paved the way for the tumultuous conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy. The cardinal electors overcame deep divisions to select the 266th pontiff in a remarkably fast conclave.
Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict – who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
Read more from The Associated Press.
By John Waage
Benedict became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign rather than die in office. One 21st Century reflection of the change is the papal Twitter page, where Benedict’s picture has been deleted and his tweets moved to another area of the website.
Monday’s meeting of the cardinals opened in prayer, and each cardinal took an oath of secrecy, pledging to keep quiet about matters related to the election of the next pope.
The cardinals have not yet set a date for the election because some of the 115 cardinals who will vote have not yet arrived in Rome.
By Allesandro Speciale
VATICAN CITY – In his final public address, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday (Feb. 27) forcefully defended his decision to resign while trying to reassure Catholics still reeling from the shock of his unprecedented move.
For the first time since his stunning announcement on Feb. 11, the 85-year old pope explained at length his decision to become the first pope in six centuries to resign. His tenure officially ends Thursday at 8 p.m. local time.
Benedict admitted that his resignation is a “grave” and “novel” act but, he added, his choice had been made “with profound serenity.”
As the pontificate of Benedict XVI winds down, many American Catholics express a desire for change, according to a new survey report by the Pew Research Center. For example, most Catholics say it would be good if the next pope allows priests to marry. And fully six-in-ten Catholics say it would be good if the next pope hails from a developing region like South America, Asia or Africa.
At the same time, many Catholics also express appreciation for the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. While about half of U.S. Catholics (46%) say the next pope should “move the church in new directions,” the other half (51%) say the new pope should “maintain the traditional positions of the church.” And among Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week, nearly two-thirds (63%) want the next pope to maintain the church’s traditional positions.
For more of this blog, read the Orlando Sentinel.
I remember sitting at the top of the stairs at Edith and Wilbur’s house. Their television sat in the front room at just the right angle for me to see the screen from my “you kids go upstairs now” perch. President Nixon was giving his resignation speech. In my six-year-old mind I thought that if the President was quitting then America must be over. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew enough to know that it meant something.
Resignations mean something. And although Nixon’s resignation did not mean what I imagined at the time, it meant something. So does the resignation of the Pope.
Approximately 1.2 billion people around the world consider the Pope to speak for and represent God in ways that no one else does. So, what does it mean for a person to abdicate that role? Is it even really possible to divest oneself of such an identity?
The most recent precedent is some 598 years old. In those days there were rival popes. Or more accurately, a Pope (Gregory XII) and those that were considered anti-popes (Benedict XIII and John XXIII), but they reigned and ruled simultaneously over different groups of Roman Catholic cardinals in Rome, Avingnon and Pisan. The resignation of Gregory XII ended the great schism in 1415 and the papacy was consolidated in Rome. So, Gregory’s resignation meant something. It produced the way for a broken church to be re-unified for a time.
However, if you read the secular press coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, you hear purely humanistic reasons given as justification for his stepping down. The responsibilities of the job and physical fatigue are legitimate reasons for many, but for the Roman Pontiff who is, according to Catholic theology, literally and physically the bridge between the Church and Her God? How is anyone in a position to “quit” such a job?
Therein lies the rub for me. I’m not Catholic, but I do share a baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I do rely on the same Savior, Jesus Christ. And I do offer myself in the same spirit of living sacrifice articulated in Romans 12:1-2. Which is where I find my brow furrowed over the Pope’s resignation. To me this is a calling in which you die trying. You do not give up short of God’s ordained finish line for this life. You run until you break the tape and you collapse into His grace, as a saint.
I certainly understand the humanistic desire to see a younger person take over the reigns and advance the institution to greater effectiveness. But as justification for this particular resignation that’s at best naturalistic humanism and at worst its atheism. To be clear, I am not calling the Pope an atheist. But when we say that we’re too weak or too tired or too old or too dull or too whatever to live obediently into the calling to which we have been called, we are saying that God is not big enough or not powerful enough or not God enough to do in and through us what we cannot.
As an exercise here, check the ages of Abraham and Noah and Moses and Zechariah and Elizabeth when you doubt what God can do with an octogenarian.
Sadly, the process of vetting potential replacements for the Pope looks to be equally humanistic. What would be best for the church? Which part of the world deserves representation? Who will bring continuity?
I’m for whatever Cardinals are asking on their knees and in the quiet of their prayer closets “Who is God’s man? Who has God ordained to lead the Roman Catholic Church for such a time as this?”
May God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven in this most important transition in the life of the larger Church.