New pope, new chance at peaceArgentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been elected as the new spiritual leader of the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world in a conclave at the Vatican on March 13. Pope Francis, the church’s 266th, succeeds Pope Benedict XVI, who became the first pope in nearly 600 years to step down voluntarily, citing ailing spiritual and physical strength. The new pope is the first-ever from the Latin American continent and the first non-European in 1,282 years. His ascent may signal a new direction in the 2,000-year-old institution.
The first pope from South America, from the Jesuit Order and with the name Francis suggests the Catholic Church’s will to reach out to a broader population. The choice of a conservative archbishop also indicates the church will uphold its tradition and legacy while blending more with the fast-changing times and society through modernization and reforms in hopes of restoring the authority and reputation of the scandal-ridden church.
Catholics have been quickly losing popularity and respect. The church has been besieged with endless criticism over sexual abuse scandals involving priests, corruption, bureaucracy and ordainment of women, as well as battles with social issues on abortion, gay marriage, contraception and euthanasia. The new pontiff hopes to extend openness and social outreach and be more active and communicative with the real world.
The secular world thirsts for spiritual enlightenment and comfort amid deepening polarization, conflict and economic trouble. The new pope should inspire souls that have been fractured and lost in the sea of material excess. The Buenos Aires archbishop has been known for austerity. He wants to maintain servitude to the people, reminding them that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes. He pledged to listen and serve the poor and neglected to pave the way for a world where all people can live as equal and valuable beings.
Many are pleasantly surprised that the new pope has taken up the name of a 13th century saint known for humility. St. Francis of Assisi shared family wealth with the poor while living amongst them at a time when the church was extremely corrupt. The patron of the poor preached a life of modesty while standing up against social evils. By honoring the saint, the new pope may be manifesting the will to spread the spirit of brotherhood, servitude and austerity. The pope is not just a leader of the Catholic population, but a spiritual symbol of the world. We hope he will play an active role in enhancing and ensuring peace around the world, including on this peninsula.