Pope Francis, as he is now called, was Cardinal Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was ordained a priest in 1969. He has maintained a stellar reputation within the priesthood, particularly among his fellow prelates.
In his first homily as the new pontiff, Pope Francis said, “If we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO (non-governmental organization), but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.” That, my friends, is speaking truth to power. Pope Francis is my new hero.
What has piqued my interest is that the new Pope has taken the name of the saint who most embodied the radical poverty of Christ: Saint Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis is a member of the Society of Jesus (S.J., referred to as Jesuits). He is a Pope of Firsts. He is the first Pope to be a Jesuit. He is the first Pope to be from the southern hemisphere. He is the first Pope from the Americas. He is the first non-European Pope in 1,272 years. And he is the first Pope in 167 years to come from a Catholic religious order (Society of Jesus). A religious order (or institution) within the Catholic Church is identified by the vows taken. All priests (and nuns) take vows, but those who join specific orders take vows peculiar to that society or institution within the Church.
Jesuits are referred to colloquially as “God’s Marines.” This came about because the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola, had been a military man. These priests were also willing to accept orders anywhere in the world and to live in the most extreme conditions if that was what was required. “Jesuits work in education (founding schools, colleges, universities and seminaries), intellectual research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes and promote social justice and ecumenical dialogue . . . Formation for Priesthood normally takes between 8 and 14 years, depending on the man's background and previous education, and final vows are taken several years after that, making Jesuit formation among the longest of any of the religious orders . . . Within the Roman Catholic Church, there has existed a sometimes tense relationship between Jesuits and the Vatican due to questioning of official Church teaching and papal directives, such as those on abortion, birth control, women deacons, homosexuality, and liberation theology. Usually this theological free thinking is academically oriented, being prevalent at the university level.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Jesus)
There are three standard vows which are taken by most of the orders and institutions within the Roman Catholic Church. The first is the vow of poverty. The second is the vow of chastity. The third is the vow of obedience. For Jesuits, and only Jesuits, after a period of time serving as a priest, a fourth vow may be taken, the vow of obedience to the Pope with regard to the missions. Where a Jesuit is to go in service to God is thus to be determined by the head of the Church, the Pope.
In a talk which Pope Francis gave as a new cardinal in 2001, he made this profound insight in speaking about Peter’s love for Jesus particularly after failing in his service to the Lord. “Christian morality is simply a response. It is the heartfelt response to a surprising, unforeseeable, ‘unjust’ mercy (‘unjust’ meaning, ‘a mercy we do not deserve.’ – my explanation). The surprising, unforeseeable, ‘unjust’ mercy, using purely human criteria, of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a ‘never falling down,’ but an ‘always getting up again.’” Those of us in the ministry would say, “That will preach!”
An article published by CNN used several words to describe Pope Francis: Humble, Authentic, and Credible. Coming from such an ultra-liberal news organization as CNN, this is saying a lot.
I believe Pope Francis is a man to watch. Unless I miss my guess, he will be a breath of fresh air, not only to the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, but to the rest of us as well.