Michael Severance, operations manager of the Istituto Acton in Rome, recently wrote an article for the World Catholic Report explaining why Pope Francis was a historic choice and examining what we can expect from his papacy.
He points out that “this past week proved a historic week of firsts:”
We now have the first Jesuit pope. And the first pope named Francis. He is the first non-European pope since Gregory III, an eighth-century Syrian. And we now have the very first pope from the Americas.
We have also witnessed a pope who is shunning what some critics perceive as Vatican tinsel and niceties during these economic hard times.
Francis has refused to ride in the pope’s private car (preferring the shuttle bus) or to wear red shoes and a fur-lined cape, or mozzetta, opting for ordinary black shoes and a white cassock.
This is the first time in a very long while that we have listened to a pope who readily quips in public and frequently includes off-script interjections to prepared remarks—at his first Mass with his brother cardinals, then a second time during his first press conference with journalists on Saturday, then a third time during his Sunday sermon at the Vatican parish of St. Anne, and again only a few hours later at his noontime Angelus, when he preached from his apartment above St. Peter’s Square. Not even John Paul II was at such ease with humor and his own words so early on in his pontificate.
Since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was somewhat unknown before he was elected Pope, Severance has compiled a brief profile of Pope Francis, focusing the pope as a pastor, thinker, and advocate for the poor.
Francis the pastor: “John Paul II and Benedict XVI rolled into one”
[Edward] Pentin says Francis is likely to concentrate his pastoral discourses on four elements: “Christ, the poor, peace, and safeguarding creation.”
In Argentina, Pentin says Francis was known as for his warmth, humility, and compassion—three virtues that are particularly effective when pastoring both fallen-away and practicing Catholics. His outgoing pastoral style is exactly what some hoped for from a potential pope Timothy Dolan, the folksy and hospitable archbishop of New York, and by those nostalgic for the ability of Blessed John Paul II to move the largest crowds to tears and soften the hearts of even non-believers.
Francis the thinker: “Jesuits are typically not dim bulbs!”
We have already heard several clever quips from the new pope. He told journalists at his first press conference that he considered taking the name Clement XV, to avenge himself on Clement XIV, who suppressed the Jesuit order in 1773. After alluding to a book by German Cardinal Walter Kasper during his first Angelus address, he added, “Don’t think that I’m publicizing the books of my cardinals, that is not the case!”
John Allen says that, theologically speaking, Francis “profiles as the typical bishop from the developing world…very conservative on matters of sexual morality, fairly progressive on economic justice, armed conflict, [and] the environment.”
Under his episcopal leadership in Buenos Aires, as provincial of his order, and as a two-term president of the Argentinean Bishops Conference, Francis was known to oppose fiercely not only dissenting intellectuals and political leaders, but also his fellow clerics.
“As far as the Jesuits go, he tried to hold the line against liberation theology in the 1970s, insisting that his priests should be pastors and spiritual guides, not politicians,” Allen said. “It made him unpopular in the order. Actually, one cardinal said to me after the conclave: ‘Maybe it will take a Jesuit to fix the Jesuits!’”
Francis the advocate of the poor: “A model for all of us”
“Pope Francis is not a socialist, capitalist, leftist, libertarian, Keynesian, Hayekian, supply-sider, demand-sider, deficit hawk, or monetary dove,” [Samuel] Gregg said.
“He’s a Catholic, and like any other Catholic, he will look to the Scriptures, Church Tradition, the writings of the Church Fathers, the teachings of popes and councils, as well as the natural law for guidance on how to address economic questions and challenges.”
Of course Francis will be concerned about the poor, Gregg says—“That’s something Christ commanded all his followers to do.” And Francis’ care for the poor in Buenos Aires has been widely noted; he famously visited and celebrated Mass in the slums, asked supporters to donate their airfare money to the poor instead of coming to Rome when he was made a cardinal, and rode buses, trams, and subways instead of using a chauffeured car service.
Read A week of firsts here.