Lambert Mbom


The suspense is over! Now we have a Pope – Habemus Papam – Franciscum erstwhile Jorge Mario Bergoglio – Blessed is he, a Jesuit, from Argentina, South America who comes in the name of the Lord – Let us rejoice and be glad! But what are we to make of this choice?

First of all for the average Catholic, there is an overflow of joy with this choice of the Pope. In deed we rejoice and are glad. A saintly man who defied all odds and bets, hiding in plain sight who though with one lung and with the burden of age will inject a badly needed spiritual steam. What is even more surprising is the fact he featured prominently in the last conclave coming second to now Pope emeritus. Benedict.

A Jesuit as Pope – The Jesuits are a religious order of priests and brothers formed by St Ignatius of Loyola “to serve Christ and the Pope.” The Jesuits have excelled in education with their superb schools and universities especially in the US and in Rome. They are the “brain boxes” of the Church. They are also known for their social justice ministries.

But they are embroiled in controversies! Ask Cardinal Arinze and his commencement address in May 17, 2003 when he was booed in Georgetown University for his defense of prolife and 70 professors signed a petition to the dean against the prince of the church for defending Church doctrine in a Catholic university run by Jesuits. Last year, Georgetown University again made news with her controversial invitation to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius to deliver the commencement lecture amidst the contraception mandate controversy. Yes, the Jesuits have given us a Pope – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – To the Greater Glory of God.

This notwithstanding he is an authentic man from the South, born and raised Argentinian even though of Italian heritage.  In Pope Francis, the Church comes alive to poverty. He is not a man who just knows about poverty or who has read about it but one who knows poverty. He has lived through the throes of poverty and knows its color, taste, size and shape. One would not be wrong to surmise that in John Paul II we had a philosopher, in Benedict XVI we had a theologian and now in Francis we have a pastor. He comes to us as it were from the trenches. Like Pope Paul VI mentioned: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

Pope Benedict’s message for Lent 2013 echoed these sentiments and the Holy Spirit seemed to have been nudging the Church through him to this selection. He wrote:

The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love. In Sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4).

From all that initial reports indicate, Pope Francis fits this bill. The poor, the hoi polloi, the anawims Yahweh in Argentina will tell us the stories beyond the bus riding Cardinal who gave up the trappings and comforts of Office to live the vagaries of daily life in Argentina.

Even though, National Catholic Reporter, Joshua J McElwee in his article, “No Direction Signaled for New Pope at Cardinals’ mass” seemed to indicate that Cardinal Sodano failed to give marching orders to the Cardinals as to who to elect Pope, history has vindicated Cardinal Sodano with this choice of Pope Francis.

The dean of the College of Cardinals, Sodano in his homily on Tuesday for the mass for the election of a Pope placed emphasis on the Church’s social teachings, which have historically been in the developing world.

 “The last popes have been builders of so many good initiatives for people and for the international community, tirelessly promoting justice and peace,” Sodano ended his homily. “Let us pray that the future pope may continue this unceasing work on the world level.”

 The cardinals took these words to heart and at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave the Church one who will now continue this work. Beyond the witness of his personal life, we find confirmation in the name the new Bishop of Rome has chosen: Francis.

Speculations are rife as to why the Pope chose this name. Some think it is after St Francis of Assisi the great champion of poverty, or Francis Xavier the great Jesuit missionary to Asia. Pope Benedict in his message to the Jesuits in 2008 seems to give us a glimpse to why Francis Xavier may be the reason for the Pope’s name. 

 “At a time when new geographical horizons were being opened, Ignatius’ first companions placed themselves at the Pope’s disposal “so that he might use them where he judged it would be for God’s greater glory and the good of souls” (Autobiography, n. 85). They were thus sent to announce the Lord to peoples and cultures that did not know him as yet. They did so with a courage and zeal that still remain as an example and inspiration: the name of St. Francis Xavier is the most famous of all, but how many others could be mentioned!

Clearly, the name Francis if after Francis Xavier signals the new Pope will continue the unfinished business of the Year of the Faith and New Evangelization, which Pope emeritus Benedict XVI left.

Nowadays the new peoples who do not know the Lord or know him badly, so that they do not recognize him as the Saviour, are far away not so much from the geographical point of view as from the cultural one. The obstacles challenging the evangelisers are not so much the seas or the long distances as the frontiers that, due to a mistaken or superficial vision of God and of man, are raised between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice.”

Or it could simply be Francis of Solano, the patron of Argentina. In any case, what is clear is the fact that in Francis we find the champion of the poor and the new evangelization. Long live Pope Francis!