On Wednesday, March 13, cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to replace the retiring Pope Benedict XVI. Bergoglio was endearingly shy in his first public appearance as pope, and he adopted the papal name Francis, in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Pope Francis’ election marks a few significant “firsts” for the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope. The Jesuits (known more formally as The Society of Jesus) are a male religious order dating back to the 1500s. The Jesuits were accused, at various points, of being power-hungry, anti-Semitic and theologically rebellious, and the Jesuit order has been, at various times throughout history, banned by secular governments and suppressed by the Church itself. On the other hand, the Jesuits were instrumental in spreading Christianity worldwide, especially in the Americas, and founded hundreds of universities across the globe (including such famous institutions as Boston College and Georgetown University). The election of a Jesuit to the papacy might indicate a new openness and acceptance within the Church hierarchy.
Pope Francis is the first pope from the Americas. Born in Argentina to Italian-immigrant parents, Pope Francis is the first man from the Western Hemisphere to ascend to the Chair of Peter.
Pope Francis is the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere. Throughout the past 500 years, the center of the world was in the north. Technological advancement, population growth and history-making events mostly took place above the equator, in the nations of North America, Europe and East Asia. The election of a pope from below the equator corresponds with a recent shift of focus towards the south. As the populations of North America, Europe and East Asia stagnate and shrink, the populations of South America and Africa have exploded, and the Church seems to recognize that the important events of our future will occur in the Global South.
The Review has high hopes for Pope Francis. We hope his papacy will be marked by Jesuit perspicacity, and perhaps the Argentine pope will offer tango lessons in the Vatican.
One can hope.