A Jesuit. Chosen on the thirteenth day of the month, in the thirteenth year of the century. I can hardly wait to see what sort of strange creatures crawl out of the fundamentalist fever swamps.
People are calling him “Francis I”, but this is incorrect; he won’t be Francis I unless someone subsequently choose the name as well. It’s just “Francis”.
That he renounced the life of luxury that is normative for hierarchs is by now well known. He cooked for himself in a spare apartment instead of having servants in a palace. He rode the bus instead of being chauffeured. This is in itself remarkable enough to win me immediately over.
There are, though, allegations that when he was the Jesuit provincial of Argentina he was silent, if not complicit, in the evils of the dictatorship that ruled his country. Knowing of clerics unfairly criticized for their “silence” – think Pius XII – when speaking out would provoke more evils and silently working behind the scenes is in fact the only option, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
Others are not so generous. Our pal Owen White, aka “Red Owen”, has denounced him as a right wing lackey. Owen only recently returned to being in communion with Rome, just in time to attack the new pope.
But Owen is a Marxist. No one short of Franciscan Fr Leonardo Boff, the father of liberation theology, would satisfy him as pope. But as Fr Leonardo has publicly welcomed the election of Francis, it is highly unlikely that the new pope is the oligarchic bogeyman of Owen’s imagination.
What’s more, there is plenty of evidence, in the man’s own words, that he is no friend to globalization and capitalism, that he is a man of the poor, one who rejects economic oppression.
I heard, by chance, driving home last night, Fr Sirico on Al Kresta’s talk show. Fr S was arguing that the new pope was not really interested in economics. He didn’t sound like he was convincing himself, as well he shouldn’t: there is a rumor, started by me, that the pope’s first encyclical is going to be entitled Anathema Sirico.
And then there is the name. At first there was some confusion: Xavier? Or Assisi? The Vatican was quick to clarify: he had taken the name of the poor man of Assisi. Coming on the heels of a Benedict, this is certainly telling.
When Joseph Ratzinger chose “Benedict” he was invoking the figure who is arguably at the root of Western Christendom. By choosing “Francis” the new pope is recalling the single figure who revived that entity, who brought, out of a moribund and decaying thing (sound familiar?), a new springtime of faith.
Both saints began as solitary, praying figures. It always begins in a cave.
It is sobering, of course, to reflect on Francis’ eventual fate, betrayed by his order, blind and lonely.
We can hope that his is a happier fate, this new pope, this man who first asked our blessing.
I really was not expecting to be much excited about the new pope; other than praying “Dear God, please, not an American” I didn’t have much of a stake in the matter, assumed it would be some typical bureaucrat or other.
I’m not sure why I thought that; surely the last two popes were not clerical drones. I guess I had heard about conflict within the college of cardinals, between the curia and what the media was calling “the party of reform”. And I thought the curia would prevail.
Oh, me of little faith.
But instead we got a man who lives in voluntary simplicity, who kisses the feet of AIDS patients, who walks the slums?
Thanks be to God.
And God bless Pope Francis.