These have been rather interesting days for the Catholic Church. We’ve experienced the first papal abdication in over 600 years. While the Popes generally do remain in office until death, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI felt that with his energy flagging, it would be best to leave things in the care of a younger man. Pope Francis isn’t that much younger. In fact, he’s two years younger than Pope Benedict was at the time of his election. But as we’ve seen in recent days, he is certainly energetic!
He’s a unique Pope for a couple of reasons. First, he comes from the New World. Granted, he is the son of Italian immigrants, something which may satisfy those who wanted an Italian Pope. But he didn’t grow up in Italy. He grew in Argentina which is a very different place. The largest bloc of Catholics in the world are in Latin America.
The new Pope is a Jesuit. The Jesuits, whose formal name is the Society of Jesus, were founded by St. Ignatius Loyala in the 16th century. They are well known for their missionary work and their devotion to education. They built some of the great American universities. Georgetown, Fordham, Gonzaga, and Loyola are all Jesuit schools. One of the interesting things about Jesuits are some of the vows they take. In addition to the regular vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience they take a special fourth vow of obedience to the Pope. Additionally, Jesuits are not supposed to aspire to any leadership office in their community or to the episcopate. There aren’t many Jesuit bishops, but Pope Francis was a very good one. Thus, many Jesuits were found scratiching their heads at the idea of a Jesuit Pope. But stranger things have happened. One of the best bishops in medieval England was St. Hugh of Lincoln. St. Hugh was a Carthusian monk. Carthusians are hermits, living in hermitages and spend their days in silence. They’re not usually chosen as bishops. Neither are Trappists, though there has been a Trappist bishop in recent memory. Bishop John Willem Nikolaysen Gran, O.C.S.O. was Bishop of Oslo from 1964 until 1983. He died in 2008.
I think that Pope Francis’ pontificate will be an interesting one. He certainly is energetic and has a way with people. He is determined, despite his new role, to continue keeping a simple life. We’ve heard stories of him calling friends back in Argentina, even going so far as to call the people who delivered his newspapers to tell them not to deliver his newspapers anymore. In some ways, he reminds me of Blessed John Paul II.
Each man brings to the pontificate his own gifts, talents, and yes, limitations. I look forward in the years ahead to see what Pope Francis will bring to the Church. Ad multos annos! May the Lord grant him many years.