The economic crisis and the desire for change are the two factors that inspired the Cardinals to choose Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Now more than ever before, the Catholic church has demonstrated that it is in step with the times. Far more in step than Italian political parties and institutions, as the most recent elections so unfortunately demonstrated. The Cardinals understood that they needed a pope who is close to the less fortunate, and far from the ostentation and intrigue of the palazzo. And that's who they've chosen.
In this anno domini 2013 the entire world, and especially the West, is far different from how it was in 2005, when Ratzinger was elected. The world is struggling to work its way free of a prolonged recession, second-guessing the magnificent and progressive results that the capitalist economic system has guaranteed for over two centuries; second-guessing the real-life sustainability of well being that is exclusively material, and increases the number of poor and unemployed.
The era of blind faith in the economy and the chase for the golden calf is over. Now we need a spiritual guide we can trust, one who can bridge class divisions in the name of brotherhood and love.
Not by chance, faith, brotherhood and love are the three words around which the first speech made by the new Bishop of Rome rotated. The newly elected pope seems to want to repudiate luxury, iconically consacrated by the photo of him out on the balcony of St Peter's with nothing but an iron cross around his neck, while flanked by Cardinals draped in gold.
This pope has given us precise signals starting right from his choice of names: Francesco, a reminder of the poor man from Assisi; the saint who repudiated a life of privilege and power in order to devote himself to poverty and God. A pope who feels more at ease among the poor in Buenos Aires than with many of his 114 "colleagues" in the conclave, who prefers the subway to the limousine. U.S. President Barack Obama has defined him "a champion of the poor and vulnerable."
But the mysticism of poverty and austerity are only the first elements of the choice inspired by the Holy Spirit. Another can undoubtedly be seen in Joseph Ratzinger's most important legacy: the compelling need for reform within the church, which has blossomed over recent years into scandals and inter-Vatican warfare.
While around Italy the anti-establishment and anti-class winds -- perfectly expressed in the Five Star Movement -- caught traditional political parties by surprise, overwhelming them, the Catholic church has proved it can pay closer attention and act cleverly in the most positive sense of the term. It reacted by innovating, rather than folding back up on itself. Bergoglio is the first South American pope, the first jesuit, the first to take the name "Francesco." He is far removed from the Curia, as the new Bishop of Rome himself quite candidly admitted.
"It appears my fellow Cardinals went almost to the end of the world to pick a new pope. But here we are," he said. The end of the world, not the center. For a new beginning, a new world. In order to move with the times, rather than be overwhelmed by them.