Pope Francis: A Welcome Surprise to the Faithful


Photo taken of Cardinal Bergoglio a number of years ago.

VATICAN CITY — Uncertainty quickly gave way to elation among the faithful that thronged St. Peter’s Square as the name of Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was announced from the loggia of the basilica.

Few of the 100,000-strong crowd who had gathered to welcome the successor to Benedict XVI were expecting the 76-year-old Argentine cardinal to become Pope in this election. Delight seemed initially to mix with some bewilderment as people took in the name. But quickly shouts of “Fran-ce-sco” from the Roman-heavy international crowd signaled the Italians had already taken him to their hearts, helped by the fact that he has Italian ancestry.

Many Vatican watchers were predicting a younger candidate than  Cardinal Bergoglio, who is 76 and lives with one lung (although it’s a condition he has had for many years). It was reported the Argentine cardinal allegedly came in second in the conclave of 2005 that elevated Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy. But the history of the popes is rife with vital elder statesmen. Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, was elected right before he turned 76 and Benedict XVI was elected at 78.

One of those surprised by the result was the Vatican’s Jesuit spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, who knows Pope Francis, though not well. “I’m in shock,” he told reporters shortly after the election. “I’m shocked that he [the new Pope] is from Latin America, and by his name.”

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to be elected Pope in the order’s history, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first ever pontiff to take the name Francis. Members of the Society of Jesus are called to be servants of the servants of the Church, but until now not to be in such authoritative positions. For this reason, Father Lombardi said he found it “a little strange to have a Jesuit as Pope,” but he was clearly moved and delighted by the news.

He also thought the name appropriate — after St. Francis of Assisi. “The choice of the name Francis is very meaningful,” he said. “It is a name that has never been chosen before and evokes simplicity and an evangelical witness.”

Father Lombardi also noted it was “beautiful that he asked the people to pray for him and bowed to receive their blessing before blessing them.”


‘Extraordinary Election’

“This is an extraordinary election,” said Alejandro Bermudez, editor in chief of Latin America’s largest online Catholic news service ACI Prensa, and founder of the U.S.-based Catholic News Agency. “He is absolutely comfortable in his own skin.  He’s incredibly minimalistic. He showed up without the mozetta (when he appeared at the loggia). He came out wearing plain white.  And his choice of the name Francis is completely humble.”

Pope Francis telephoned Benedict XVI this evening and will visit him soon. The new Pope will celebrate the Angelus on Sunday, and will have an audience with journalists at the Vatican on Saturday morning. Tomorrow he will celebrate his first Mass with cardinals, and his inauguration Mass is expected to take place on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, in St. Peter’s.

A man of deep simplicity and humility, Pope Francis used to cook for himself, ride buses to work, and cared for a disabled priest in addition to all his other duties as archbishop of Buenos Aires. But he also made a point of never wanting to live in the Vatican and resisted invitations from John Paul II to work in the Curia, saying he would “die there” if he was sent to Rome.

“He’s incredibly learned and a serious theologian,” said Bermudez.  “He’s known for being critical of the Curia.”

“If we thought Benedict was an introvert, we all need to be prepared for the real thing now,” said Roger McCaffrey, an American Catholic publisher who was familiar with the Holy Father when he served as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. But as head of the Jesuit province in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, he acquired a reputation for being a tough administrator and for “cleaning house” — something the cardinal electors are likely to have noted in their deliberations in light of the need to reform the Roman Curia.

Speaking to the Register in St. Peter’s Square just after the white smoke appeared, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, one of the three cardinals to head the commission of enquiry into Vatileaks, made the point that it is Christ who ultimately guides the Church, but it was his “great hope” that the new Vicar of Christ will set about reforming the Curia.


Pro-Life, Pro-Family and Pro-Poor

Cardinal Bergoglio was known to be vibrantly pro-life, describing the pro-abortion movement as a “culture of death,” using the term coined by the man who made him a cardinal in 2001, Pope John Paul II. He opposed the free distribution of contraceptives in Argentina, staunchly defended the rights of the poor and chastised material inequality — he would frequently visit the slums in Buenos Aires —  and spoke out strongly against same-sex “marriage.”

In 2010, he firmly opposed a bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children, saying it will “seriously damage the family” should it be approved. He made the statement in a letter addressed to each of the four monasteries in Argentina, asking the contemplatives to pray “fervently” that legislators be strengthened to do the right thing.

“At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children,” he wrote. “At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

The new Pope will face many competing concerns when he takes up residence in the Apostolic Palace, not least increasing secularism. He will also have to confront the sexual abuse crisis, and the possibility that more cases will come to light in countries that have so far escaped notice.


Other Challenges

Pope Francis will also have to face a host of other challenges, such as protecting and promoting religious freedom in the Middle East, India and China, not to mention conscience rights in the United States and Europe.

In his own Latin America, he will have to contend with the loss of Church members to Pentecostal sects. In Africa and Asia, where the Church is expanding rapidly, he will face the challenges of the effects of poverty, globalization and inculturation.

On the ecumenical front, the new Pope can be expected to continue work on improving relations with the Orthodox, Anglicans and Jews, while continuing Benedict XVI’s work in interreligious dialogue, particularly with Islam, all the while bolstered by prayers of hundreds of millions of the faithful.

Given all the challenges that lay ahead, it is perhaps fitting he chose the name of the saint whom Christ urged, “Rebuild my Church.”


Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

In Paris, an Uplifting Show of Support for Marriage


french-flagIn this Jan. 21 article filed from Paris for the National Catholic Register, I report on an enormous march against same-sex marriage and adoption legislation being proposed by the government of Francois Hollande.


PARIS — A march in Paris Jan. 13 against proposed marriage and adoption legislation for same-sex couples was the largest public demonstration France has witnessed since then-President Francois Mitterand tried to make all schools public in 1984, observers say.

Estimates vary on the size of the crowd, with police saying 340,000 attended the march that ended at the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. The organizers, however, put the figure at over a million.
Gen. Bruno Dary, a former military governor of Paris with technical expertise in estimating crowd flows, took issue with the police estimate, saying about 800,000 demonstrators took part, according to Le Figaro newspaper.
The protesters, in what were effectively three separate marches in the city, included not only faith and pro-family groups and people of all ages and backgrounds, but also atheists and homosexuals.

The demonstration, called a “Demo for All,” was held to protest against a bill titled “Marriage for All,” which would allow same-sex “marriage” and adoption by homosexual couples, that is being tabled by the administration of President Francois Hollande. Media coverage of the march was extensive in France, with television news bulletins and the press giving it plenty of attention, although much of it was eclipsed by the French military intervention in Mali.

Some even saw the Mali operation as a cynical attempt by Hollande to take public attention away from the issue in a bid to smoothen its passage through the French parliament.

France’s Bishops Speak Out

“For many months, we have alerted the government and the public about the risk of a profound cleavage within French society posed by the bill allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples,” a Jan. 16 statement from the French bishops’ conference said. “This cleavage is even more unfortunate as our country is experiencing a period of severe economic and social problems which should, on the contrary, persuade political leaders to unite the country.”

The bishops, headed by the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, added that the “exceptional size of the manifestation [shows], if proof were needed, that this warning was well founded. In the three processions converging towards the Champ de Mars, people from all parts of France, young and old, families with children or alone, people of all opinions, of all religions or no religion marched with conviction, in good humor and were not aggressive towards anyone.”

A common feature, the bishops added, was the “recognition of the family, the children’s best interests and respect of parentage.”

The Catholic Church teaches that authentic marriage involves only one man and one woman. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution, despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures and spiritual attitudes” (1603).
In an address in June 2009, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “The different present forms of the dissolution of marriage, as well as free unions and ‘trial marriage,’ including the pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are … contrary expressions of an anarchic freedom that appears erroneously as man’s authentic liberation.”

Eradicating ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’

The protesters were not all opposed to same-sex unions, however. “French people want homosexuals to be treated as equals, and most of us agree on that,” Berenice Girardeau, a Parisian resident, told the Register. “But if you want to give them the same rights, you have to modify the law, the Civil Code, and that’s what’s frightening people.”

Many French citizens, including homosexuals, are reluctant to have the terms “mother” and “father” eradicated from the statute books by the proposed legislation and have issues with same-sex adoption. They argue that artificial procreation and proxy parenting by same-sex couples is simply a way of treating children as consumer products.

“The rights of children trump the right to children,” said Jean Marc, a French mayor, who is also homosexual and lived with a man for 20 years. He said the homosexual-rights “LGBT” movement does not speak for him and that “as a society we should not be encouraging this; it’s not biologically natural.”

During a heated Jan. 16-17 debate in the National Assembly, the French parliament’s lower house, opponents of the bill pointed out that 150 references to “mother” and “father” in the Civil Code would have to be erased.  Philippe Gosselin of the center-right UMP party noted that, in personnel forms for SNCF, the state rail carrier, the terms “father” and “mother” had already been replaced by the label “Parents 1 and 2.”

“We want to stop this!” he declared.

Xavier Bongibault, a prominent atheist homosexual, is also opposed to the bill. “In France, marriage is not designed to protect the love between two people. French marriage is specifically designed to provide children with families,” he said in an interview, according to C-FAM. “[T]he most serious study done so far … demonstrates quite clearly that a child has trouble being raised by gay parents.”

Voice of Experience

Meanwhile, Jean-Dominique Bunel, a specialist in humanitarian law, told Le Figaro he “was raised by two women” and that he “suffered from the lack of a father, a daily presence, a character and a properly masculine example, some counterweight to the relationship of my mother to her lover. I was aware of it at a very early age. I lived that absence of a father, experienced it as an amputation.”

“As soon as I learned that the government was going to officialize marriage between two people of the same sex, I was thrown into disarray,” he explained. It would be “institutionalizing a situation that had scarred me considerably. In that there is an injustice that I can in no way allow.”

If the women who raised him had been married, Bunel added, “I would have jumped into the fray and would have brought a complaint before the French state and before the European Court of Human Rights for the violation of my right to a mom and a dad.”

One of the most prominent campaigners against the bill, who was also one of the chief organizers of the march, is “Frigide Barjot,” a famous Catholic comedian in France. “To make a child, you need a man and a woman,” Barjot said ahead of the march, adding that a same-sex couple becoming the legal parents of a child “is totally contrary to reality.”

But like many French citizens, she does not object to official status and legal protections for same-sex couples. “The problemis not homosexuality, but human filiation,” she argued, stressing children’s need to have legal affiliation and access to their biological parents.

Referendum Request

Barjot and many other French citizens would prefer to see a referendum on the issue.

“A referendum would be the easiest and most sensible thing to do,” said Girardeau. “Let’s see what people think — this is a huge issue for us.”

But, so far, the Elysee Palace has ruled that out. The march expressed “a sensibility that must be respected,” a government spokesman said, “but it does not change the government’s desire to have a debate in parliament to allow passage of the law.”

The bill will be presented to France’s National Assembly on Jan. 29.

The expectation is that homosexual marriage will be separated from same-sex adoptions and surrogacy parenting, with such issues dealt with individually, but that same-sex “marriage” will definitely be passed by the parliament. Many same-sex couples in France already go abroad to countries where such legislation already exists, such as Belgium or Spain.

Such an outcome would not be acceptable, France’s Catholic hierarchy has stressed. In their statement, the French bishops called on politicians to offer policy solutions and formulations during the parliamentary debate “that are respectful of the heterosexual nature of marriage, parentage and homosexuals.”


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