The term most frequently used by the media to describe Pope Francis is ‘The People’s Pope.” It’s a term of endearment that summarizes the new Pope’s enormous popularity.
Pope Francis, now officially installed, will preside over the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Hovering over thousands of Catholics in Rome during the new Pope’s inauguration was an aesthetically flawless blue sky. Pope Francis celebrated Mass with political leaders from 130 nations and representatives from a variety of religions. More than 30 delegations of other Christian churches, as well as representatives from the Jewish, Muslim and various other faiths, attended the ceremony.
Among the high-level guests, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew, was in attendance. He was the first patriarch from the Istanbul-based church to witness a papal inauguration since the two branches of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago. You could tout this as a religious event in and of itself, showing the growth and community of many different religions worldwide.
Early Tuesday, Pope Francis took a turn around St. Peter’s Square in an open-air vehicle to greet the faithful gathered there in his honor. Onlookers waved banners expressing support for the new leader of their church. The new pope paused several times to bless small children and, in one case, a man who appeared disabled. He got out among the crowd of a few, making Vatican security scramble. The crowd size was easily in the hundreds of thousands.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner arrived prior to Tuesday, in order to meet with the new pope, who hails from her country. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, was also one of the political leaders in attendance.
In the pope’s native Argentina, crowds gathered at the cathedral in the capital, Buenos Aires, in an overnight vigil to celebrate Francis’s ascension to the papal throne. Of course, Argentina buzzed with excitement.
The Vatican released Pope Francis’ new coat of arms, which is similar to the one he used as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. It features symbols of Jesus, his mother Mary and her husband Joseph, as well as the new papal trappings of a bishop miter and the crossed keys of the Holy See.
Vatican officials also released details of Francis’ official ring, which once was offered to Pope Paul VI, who presided over the second half of the Second Vatican Council, which is credited with modernizing the Roman Catholic Church.
Francis received the ring during Tuesday’s installation Mass.
The People’s Pope; quite a description. But if you look carefully at a comparison of Pope Francis, the characterization appears to be supported by at least 5 facts, which provides a basis and reason he just may be, the peoples Pope.
1. Francis, the first
Unlike other recent pontiffs — John Paul II, Benedict XVI — Pope Francis doesn’t have a numeral after his name. That’s because he’s the first to take the name Francis.
The pope wanted to honor St. Francis of Assisi, who was an admirer of nature and a servant to the poor and destitute. Pope Francis most certainly presents himself as a servant of God for the people.
St. Francis of Assisi was born the son of a rich cloth merchant. But he lived in rags among beggars at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
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Those close to Pope Francis see similarities between the two men.
“Francis of Assisi is … someone who turned his back on the wealth of his family and the lifestyle he had, and bonded with lepers and the poor,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, the Vatican’s deputy spokesman. “Here’s this pope known for his care for AIDS patients and people who are very sick. Who is known for his concern with single mothers whose babies were refused to be baptized by priests in his diocese. And he was unimpressed with the lavish surroundings that will no doubt be his new quarters. “He scolded those priests last year and said, ‘How can you turn these people away when they belong to us?'” Pope Francis, the pontiff of firsts, breaks with tradition
2. Pope Francis is not the first pope from outside Europe
Sure, Francis is the first non-European pope in modern times. But back in the 8th century, a Syrian — Pope St. Gregory III — led the church from 731 to 741 A.D.
We’ve also had popes from Bethlehem (St. Evaristus, from 97 to 105 A.D.), Jerusalem (Pope Theodore I, from 642 to 649) and modern-day Libya (Saint Victor I, from 189 to 199). Several other Syrians have also been pontiff in the last few millennia.
Of course, the majority of popes have been Italian. But with Francis’ appointment, the tide could be shifting to outside Europe. Nevertheless, the fact the he’s an Argentinian may have significant consequences on the way he’s perceived by common everyday people.
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3. The peoples Pope!
“The new pope is a very humble man,” said the Rev. Eduardo Mangiarotti, an Argentine priest. “He takes public transport every day.”
He also chose to live in an apartment instead of the archbishop’s palace, passed on a chauffeured limousine and cooked his own meals, CNN Vatican analyst John Allen wrote in a profile published by National Catholic Reporter.
In his first public act as pontiff, Pope Francis broke with tradition by asking the estimated 150,000 people packed into St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, rather than him blessing the crowd first.
“He is a very simple man,” said Luis R. Zarama, auxiliary bishop of Atlanta. “It’s very clear from the way he approached the people and asked them to bless him and pray for him. It’s a beautiful sign of closeness and humility.”
The pontiff broke with another tradition by refusing to use a platform to elevate himself above the cardinals standing with him as he was introduced to the world as Pope Francis.
“He said I’ll stay down here,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “He met each of us on our own level.”
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4. He comes with some controversy
Francis opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, which isn’t surprising as leader of the socially conservative Catholic church.
But as a cardinal, Francis clashed with the government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.
His career as a priest in Argentina coincided with the so-called Dirty War — and some say the church didn’t do enough to confront the military dictatorship.
As many as 30,000 people died or disappeared during that seven-year period which began with a coup in 1976.
Francis, in particular, was accused in a complaint of complicity in the 1976 kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests, Allen wrote. Francis denied the charge.
“The best evidence that I know of that this was all a lie and a series of salacious attacks was that Amnesty International who investigated, said that it was all untrue,” said Jim Nicholson, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. “These were unfair accusations of this fine priest.”
But Amnesty International said it did not investigate any individual for their specific involvement.
“Our research focused on the plight of the disappeared,” said Susanna Flood, media director for Amnesty International.
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5. Pope Francis has a host of challenges ahead
Francis takes the helm of a church that has been rocked in recent years by sex abuse by priests and claims of corruption and infighting among the church hierarchy.
He may need to find a way to draw new Catholics into the church where it is in decline, said Phillip M. Thompson, executive director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University.
And he’ll also need to find ways of working with shifting viewpoints among Catholics. In the United States, for example, 90% of Catholics are using contraception and 82% think it is morally permissible.
“The church has conservative positions on human sexuality, bioethics, etc., but liberal positions on issues such as economic regulation, the death penalty and immigration,” Thompson said. “A church divided against itself seems unlikely to renew our political or cultural structures.”
Opinion: Humble, authentic and credible and perhaps the best reason Pope Francis is truly the people’s pope.