cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

To Understand Pope Francis, Look to the Jesuits

A Swiss Guard salutes Pope Francis and cardinals. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

Figuring out why Pope Francis has upended so many expectations, how exactly he’s changed the Catholic Church in his first year and what he might be contemplating for the future has become a Catholic parlor game that is almost as popular as the pontiff himself.

A single key can best answer all of these questions: Francis’ longstanding identity as a Jesuit priest.

It’s an all-encompassing personal and professional definition that the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio brought with him from Buenos Aires, and one that continues to shape almost everything he does as Pope Francis.

“He may act like a Franciscan but he thinks like a Jesuit,” quipped the Rev. Thomas Reese, a fellow Jesuit who is a columnist for National Catholic Reporter.

Rise in Italian Catholic Church Attendance Attributed to "Francis Effect"

Pope Francis greets people during a meeting with UNITALSI. Photo via RNS/by Alessia Giuliani, courtesy Catholic News Service

First, the name “Francesco” leapfrogged to No. 1 on the list of the most popular baby names in Italy.

Then, the city of Rome reported a tourism boom, mostly from Latin America.

Now, there’s word Roman Catholic Church attendance is climbing throughout Italy.

Blame it on “the Francis effect.”

Italy’s Center for Studies on New Religions reported Sunday that around half of the 250 priests it surveyed reported a significant rise in church attendance since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis in March.

Pope Francis and the Long Shadow of Argentina’s 'Dirty War'

Eva Peron on the balcony of the Casa Rosada in 1951. Photo courtesy Religion News Service / Wikimedia Commons

In 1974, when the Rev. Jorge Bergoglio was the top Jesuit in his native Argentina, a former nightclub dancer named Isabel Peron came to head the nation – an accidental and weak president.

Isabel Peron served less than two years in office before a right-wing military coup placed her under house arrest, and launched a seven-year campaign of torture and killings of tens of thousands of trade unionists and other leftists: Argentina’s Dirty War.

As life in communist Poland propelled Pope John Paul II’s crusade against the Soviets and coming of age in Nazi Germany shaped Pope Benedict XVI, Argentina’s Dirty War posed deep, existential questions for the future Pope Francis.

Why the First Jesuit Pope is a Big Deal

Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, celebrating mass in Buenos Aires. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Jesuits are bound by oath not to seek higher office in the Roman Catholic Church, and now one of them has been elected to its highest office: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Pontifex Maximus.

“On the one hand, Jesuits aren’t supposed to be in positions of authority,” said the Rev. Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit and founder of Ignatius Press. “On the other hand, they’re supposed to be obedient to the church.” Pope Francis, the first Jesuit to become pope, not only represents a paradox for the papacy, but also the larger history of the Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits are formally known.

The Jesuits have played a key role in the history of the church. For centuries, they have served as its leading missionaries, founded its most prestigious universities and committed themselves to alleviating the deepest poverty.

 

 

An 'Unsettling:' Non-Catholics and Pope Francis

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A man sells newspapers outside St Peter's Square on Thursday morning. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

When I heard about the white smoke on Wednesday, I wrote on my Facebook wall: “Habent Papum.”  My own church doesn’t use Latin, so I had to use Google translate to figure out how to change the “We have a pope” of “Habemus Papam” into “They have a pope.” I got a few good laughs for my cleverness before a Catholic friend humbly reminded me that it wasn’t just their pope, and that I’d have to deal with him too ... he has no idea how prophetic his words have turned out to be.

You see, I didn’t expect to tune in at all to the election of the pope. I was raised in the Catholic Church and received its early sacraments before my family joined the Episcopal Church (my father’s tradition). I spent plenty of time in high school and after defending its practices and traditions against atheists and Protestant friends and colleagues, and I more than made up for that by pressing hard on my Catholic friends on the nuances I didn’t understand. But mostly I only paid attention when the Catholic Church said something publicly or took a political stand on an issue I cared about.

But on Wednesday, the white smoke got in my eyes, and rather than confusing my sight, it’s made things a little clearer.

Jews Worldwide See An Ally in Pope Francis

Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Jews worldwide welcomed newly elected Pope Francis as a friend on Wednesday, and pointed in particular to his sympathetic and strong reaction to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in his native Argentina — the deadliest bombing in the country’s history.

As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis “has had a warm relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina, and enjoyed close friendships with many prominent rabbis,” said Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee. “As far as I have heard and read in the few minutes since he was elected pope, he has shown deep signs of respect and friendship towards the Jews,” said Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome. “It’s a good starting point.”

'Rebuild My Church'

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Newly elected Pope Francis waves to the St. Peter's Square crowd. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Francis. Pope Francis. This could be good news for the Catholic Church, for the whole church, and for the world. Let’s hope and pray so.

Jorge Bergoglio, the Argentinian cardinal from Buenos Aires, will be the first pope from Latin America and the first outside of Europe in a millennium. That’s good news from the start. And the world is now learning about the 76-year-old new pontiff whose election caused the white smoke to rise in the night skies of Rome to the cheers of tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square. A Jesuit scholar, he seems to be a humble man who lives simply, choosing to live in a small apartment instead of the archbishop’s palace, and travel on buses and trams instead of in the church limousine.

Will simplicity and social justice become the witness of the Roman Catholic Church around the world — and will it emanate from the first pope from the Global South, which is clearly the growing future of the church? What good news that would be.

Bergoglio: A Pope of Paradox for a Church in Transition

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini.

Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — A hierarchy looking to make a clear statement about where the troubled church is headed chose on Wednesday 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 a 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?

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio Elected as Pope Francis I

The new Pope Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis I on Wednesday, after only two days of voting in the conclave tasked with choosing a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

According to anonymous reports of the 2005 conclave, he was the leading contender against then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI. Bergoglio, 76, has served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998 and was made a cardinal in 2001. He is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to rise to the papacy.

In his first address to the huge crowd that had gathered in St Peter’s Square, Francis asked for the prayers of “all men and women of good will” to help him lead the Catholic Church.

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