Over the last several months, people have asked me what I think of Pope Francis. On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was voted the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the first Jesuit, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from the Americas to be named pope. He has said some really interesting things, but I am most intrigued by his actions. He seems to wear his power with a great deal of grace and care.
In his first month as pope, Francis won widespread acclaim by gestures such as stopping to pay his own hotel bill, dressing down, choosing to live in the less fancy Vatican guest house and riding the elevator with the cardinals instead of by himself. Already this is sending a message of a less formal interpretation of his papal role, mirrored by his mode of speech in addresses to the public and during worship. He is not afraid to break convention in the name of simplicity. “This choice indicates about all a style for the church: simplicity, poverty, rigor,” said the Rev. Antonio Spadaro. On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve inmates at a juvenile prison in Rome. Two of the inmates were Muslim women. This, again breaking convention since the pope’s ceremonial foot washing traditionally has only included men since in the biblical story Jesus washed the feet of twelve male apostles. Then, on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis’ address showed deep concern for the poor and marginalized among us, quite in line with his chosen name.
Bergoglio chose the name Francis upon his papal appointment, many are saying after Francis of Assisi. Francis of Assisi was raised in a rich family, went to war, was imprisoned, and became very ill. Upon returning to Assisi, Francis eventually denounced his wealth and worldliness to work to imitate Jesus in his own life. Francis of Assisi was never ordained to the Catholic priesthood, but lived among beggars in Rome and worked to end the Crusades. He is the patron saint of animals and the environment and is associated with peace, poverty and simplicity. An interesting namesake choice for Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.
I tend to include Pope Benedict in my short answer of “It is an interesting season for the Vatican” as well. Pope Benedict XVI decided to resign, becoming the first pope to do so since 1415. It’s very interesting to me that Pope Benedict stepped down from his post when he did. It can be a position treated like the monarchs of Europe- God ordained and appointed power that can only be ended by death. Benedict’s resignation paired with Francis’ posturing of power together are radically changing the face of the papacy as a post.
In his Huffington Post article “Pope Francis and the Power Myth,” Dylan Ratigan finds it extraordinary that Francis has “tabled social issues based on judgment in favor of the unique power stewardship accorded to a man in his position…But this Pope seems to realize that while exclusion reduces vulnerability, it also reduces empathy and compassion. Among other effects, this can lead to reduced experimentation and abundance, which is where my decidedly non-Catholic interests are piqued.”
Benedict showed respect for the position of papacy and his own human limitations by resigning. Francis is showing that he is aware of his imperfections yet is moving with the careful, empathetic movements of someone respectful of the position he has been placed in. What do I think of Pope Francis so far? Well, I agree with Ratigan as he concludes, “Regardless of your religious affiliation (or non-affiliation), isn’t it a breath of fresh air to witness the emergence of someone in power who cares deeply about the gravity of his or her position?”