by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Although many (including The Leaven) listed Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, on its long list of papabili, the consensus outside of the conclave was that the Argentine wasn’t a front-runner.
In fact, not long after the new pope had been announced, the Italian bishops’ conference expressed “joy and thanks” to God for the papal election of Cardinal Angelo Scola — the cardinal archbishop of Milan.
Standing on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica was the former Cardinal Bergoglio from Argentina, who took the name Francis.
There was no surprise in the College of Cardinals, where the Argentine cleric was well-known and well-respected, said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
“The only reason why his selection was a surprise, I think, was because there was an assumption in the press and perhaps the general public that they would be looking at someone younger,” said Archbishop Naumann.
Obviously, the College of Cardinals didn’t consider age to be the deal-breaker. Rather, they saw in him the qualities the church needs at this time. Neither is Pope Francis a compromise choice or a “placeholder.”
“I can’t imagine anybody really thinking these things after John XXIII and Benedict XVI, neither of whom were, by anyone’s estimations, placeholders,” said Archbishop Naumann. “I think it simply means they felt he was the right person to lead the church at this moment. He seems to have vigorous health.”
Among the qualities that Archbishop Naumann has noted in Pope Francis is his personal holiness and life of deep prayer.
“He is one who embraces the Gospel message of simplicity in his own personal life,” said the archbishop. “He is, intellectually, a very gifted man, indicated by his background and degrees he holds. We’re not losing any IQ points between Benedict and Francis.”
Also, Pope Francis has been a good defender of the faith while in Argentina and unafraid to confront civil authorities on moral issues and to criticize those who are responsible for the inequalities in Argentine society — such as the suffering of the poor, he said.
Clearly, the cardinals were looking for a leader who would be faithful in every way to the church and courageous and bold in his living of the Gospel.
“His own simplicity of life, his personal choices to live very simply, are indicators of his virtue and are the fruit of his holiness and prayer life,” said Archbishop Naumann.
By his early actions, the pope has demonstrated his humility and lack of pretense — especially by his choice of name.
“I think again it’s just a signal,” said the archbishop. “What is St. Francis known for? For simplicity of life, humility, love and solidarity with the poor, and for being an instrument of renewal of the church.”
“The Lord himself communicated to [St. Francis] to renew and rebuild his church,” he continued. “At first, St. Francis took that literally in terms of church buildings. But later he came to understand that this was something more profound.”
Like his namesake, Archbishop Naumann expects Pope Francis to rebuild and renew the church.
A lot of people inside and outside the church are speculating about the continuity and change that will be seen in the Francis papacy.
“I think each pope puts his own unique stamp on the papacy and the life of the church, too, and I’m confident he will as well,” said Archbishop Naumann. “He’ll bring new insights and emphasis to the life of the church. I think we can be confident that this will not be a rupture from the past.”
Among the valuable things that Pope Francis brings to the papacy is life as a Latin American.
“I think he will bring a unique understanding to the challenges the church faces not only in Argentina, but throughout South America,” said Archbishop Naumann. “I think that will be a great blessing for the church in that region of the world.”
Not only that, but he was also formed as a member of the Jesuit order.
“Jesuits are called to a radical following of Jesus Christ in their lives, and to be defenders of the faith,” he said. “He’s done that throughout his ministry, and [exhibited] a great social conscience as well.”
Everything, then, from his choice of name to his earliest actions — including asking the people in St. Peter’s Square for their blessing — are signals of the man and his character.
“The election of each pope in my lifetime has brought special gifts to the church,” said Archbishop Naumann. “It’s really exciting to think what Pope Francis will bring to the church at this point.”