A theological conservative, Cardinal Bergoglio is also known for his compassion — a combination reminiscent of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador or Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement. In Buenos Aires, the cardinal showed real compassion for HIV victims, and he sternly rebuked priests who refused to baptize children born out-of-wedlock. There are also reports of the new pope being a “bridge builder” between Jesuits and other orders and, more widely, between conservatives and liberals in the church. How welcome that would be.
As the first Pope from South American, I am impressed by his sensitivity towards the poor and the world’s massive inequality — from the perspective of one of the world’s poorest places.
“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” said Bergoglio at a 2007 Latin American bishops meeting, according to National Catholic Reporter. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”
Reflecting this sensitivity the new Pope has chosen the name Francis. His namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi refused the trappings of power and possessions and chose to enter into deep solidarity with the poor, forgotten, oppressed. In his famous prayer he asked that he become ‘an instrument of peace’.
When he spoke to the welcoming crowd, the first act of Pope Francis was to ask for their prayers. As a Christian from the Baptist tradition I add my prayers to those of my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. I pray that this Pope will be a moral leader not only for the Roman Catholic community but for Christians from all traditions. Indeed, may this Pope use his calling to build bridges of understanding and common cause among all the faiths of the world, particularly for the sake of those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these my brothers and sisters’ (Matthew 25: 31 – 46)
There are many expectations placed upon Pope Francis. With God’s help and the prayers of the world family we can only be hopeful. In choosing the name of Francis, the Prince of the Poor, he is off to a good start. “May God bless Pope Francis. Amen.”