Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on February 28th, 2013, the conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals faced a tough decision. They had to elect a Pope who would be popular with the public, able to deal with the growing child sex abuse scandals, and maintain good relations with other religions, while still being an exemplary Catholic. It seemed like a tall order, and 115 “princes of the Catholic church” met to decide who would lead their faith.
They selected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio, the first Pope from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first Jesuit pope (a Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus). He was ordained a preist in December of 1969, and was appointed the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. Created a Cardinal in 2001, he is 76 years old and is Argentinian, descended from Italians. Known for his humility, simple lifestyle, his tolerance of other religions, he seemed to many people the perfect pontiff. For example, he lived in an apartment rather than a Cardinal’s palace. He took the bus to work, and does not have a personal chef because he chooses to cook for himself. In 2007, he attended a service for the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Muslim leaders have praised him as a friend of their communities. Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the leader of the Oriental Orthodox church, sent him a letter of congratulations upon his election and has called him “a good Christian.” Upon his election, he took the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi. He is the first Pope Francis in the history of the 2,000-year-old-Roman Catholic church, and his name was a controversial choice. St. Francis of Assisi is widely held as the most beloved of the Catholic saints, and taking the name Francis clearly set Cardinal Bergolio apart from the 265 popes before him.
2013 was the first time in almost 500 years that a Pope had resigned, and generated some questions about what the former Pope was to do. After all, it wouldn’t quite be fair for him to vote on his successor, but he couldn’t really go back to being a Cardinal. However, Francis seems to be on good relations with the Pope emeritus, and has said “we are brothers.” The two met at Castel Gandolfo, which is traditionally the “summer home” of popes. Refusing to pray on the papal kneeler, Pope Francis shared an extra-long one with the 85-year-old Benedict. Continuing to display his humble nature, the pope has declined to live in the traditional Vatican apartments, and Holy Thursday he washed the feet of inmates in a juvenile detention center, and celebrated a ceremony there. He also made headlines by washing the feet of young women, at least one of whom was Muslim. He was the first pope to wash the feet of women along with men.
The general public opinion is that the 1.1 billion Roman Catholics in the world could not have wished for a better leader. Whether or not this is true, only time will tell.