The guessing is over -- the 265th successor of St. Peter is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina -- Pope Francis.
He's just as Catholic as the previous pope, and those before him. No matter what the pundits may say, the new pope will, as did all his predecessors, preserve and hand on Scripture and Tradition, as received through the apostolic lineage.
No change on life issues, no change on sexual morals, no change on the sacraments, no change on Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior. These issues are not up for debate. The Catholic Church doesn't take opinion polls to determine what it teaches. The Church will remain Catholic with a capital C.
Francis is, however, also catholic without the capital C (i.e. universal) and that's the area of changes that we can expect to see. The new pontiff comes from Argentina, is a Jesuit, brings to the papacy an entirely new perspective, experience and disposition than any of his predecessors.
His style differs significantly as he applies his God-given talents, temperament and experiences to the task at hand. The resulting actions defy the secular observer's left/right or progressive/conservative paradigms. Francis is the pope, not a politician. Applying a political framework to interpret his actions is like following a baseball game with a football manual.
When analyzing Francis' actions, we can best achieve this from a perspective within the Faith. This man has just been given the "Keys to the Kingdom" and all the responsibilities that come with that. The very way he interprets himself has just changed - not just his surroundings. I think a beautiful sign of that change of perspective are his first few actions on that balcony last week:
1. The name Francis obviously brings a lot of meaning along with it in the Catholic context. True to his chosen name, in his first public comments Pope Francis stressed his ministry as the Bishop of Rome, and his collegiality with his brother Cardinals. Francis' papacy will be marked by a strong sense of humility.
2. He went on to invite everyone watching around the world to pray with him and for his predecessor in a way every Catholic first grader could participate in: A simple Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Francis' papacy will be very accessible.
3. He asked people for "a favor" -- namely that, before he'd give the Urbi et Orbi (to the City and to the World) blessing -- a special blessing only a pope can give -- if everyone watching would pray that God bless him first. Pope Francis will ask each Catholic to get actively involved.
The days since his election were further marked with indications of the kind of pope Francis will be -- and how he will differ from his predecessors. The new pope does not seem to like the papal limousine but prefers to walk or take a simple car to drive to his meetings. He went to pray at Rome's primary Marian Shrine to ask for the Mother of God's intercession for his papacy and the Church. On the way, he decided to go to the hotel he stayed at before the conclave to pick up his single piece of luggage, and pay his bill, probably giving the concierge the shock of a lifetime.
I was particularly struck when he chose to say his first Sunday Mass at the Vatican's own parish Church of St. Anna. When Mass was over, much like any parish priest in the US or Europe, he stood outside the door and greeted everyone leaving the church. He did so not just by shaking hands and nice words, but by embracing and kissing the parishioners and exchanging some words with each. This might well be the strongest indication of the new papacy. The Latin American pope will bring southern personality and warmth to the office -- along with a disarming charm that will make it hard to ignore his message.
And make no mistake about it -- that message is going to be Catholic.
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