On Wednesday, March 13 at 7:06 p.m. local time, white smoke billowed out from the Sistine Chapel’s temporary chimney at the Vatican, signaling to the public that a new pope had been elected. The Papal Conclave 2013 elected Cardinal of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, to succeed Benedict XVI after he resigned on Thursday, Feb. 28. This was the first time in more than 600 years that a pope has resigned.
It is both customary and common for a new oope to change his name, usually to point to a saint whose ideals and values he would like to emphasize during his time as pope. On Saturday, March 16, Pope Francis met with journalists to discuss his new name and why he chose it. He explained that he chose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi who lived a simple life and ignored luxuries in order to care for the poor.
Professor of Theology in the Department of Theology and Philosophy Dr. Dennis Okholm explained why choosing the name Francis is so significant. Francis of Assisi started the Franciscan religious order in the 13th century. However, Bergoglio is a part of another religious order in the Catholic church—the Jesuits. Pope Francis is actually the first Jesuit to be elected to papacy.
“There is a confluence, perhaps, in that Jesuits have always been taking the faith to other cultures, while Franciscans have always brought the faith to the common people. From the beginning, the Franciscans brought Christ to urban dwellers, especially to the poor,” Okholm said. “The reason this pope chose Francis I as his name is because he associated with the poor as a bishop in Argentina and wants the Roman Catholic church to be a church that identifies with the poor. He refused the prerogatives of a bishop, choosing to live in an apartment and take the bus; and this continues, because even during the initial ceremonies he refused some of the usual pomp and circumstance.”
After being elected, Francis I refused to take the usual Vatican One Popemobile and instead took the bus that transported the cardinals who had just voted for him. He even paid his own bill at the clerics hotel he was staying in after retrieving his luggage in order to move into the Vatican.
One of the most significant things about Francis’s election as pope is that he is the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years and the first pope from the Americas, not to mention that he also is the first pope from a non-first world country to be elected to papacy,
“As a Latin American, he will provide a different perspective that will be more theologically and morally conservative than most European and U.S. Roman Catholics,” Okholm said.
Several changes are expected to take place in the Catholic church following Francis I’s election, especially for future popes and leaders in the Catholic church.
“It will certainly be an encouragement to Latin American Roman Catholics and it might even bring back to the Roman Catholic Church some Latin Americans who left the Church to become Evangelicals (Protestants),” Okholm said. “Hopefully it will put the Vatican more in touch with the marginalized, but that remains to be seen. And it has set a precedent for selecting future popes from Latin America, Africa or Asia.”
Okholm explains why students at APU should recognize Francis’s election as significant, even if they do not identify with the Catholic church.
“It has to do with world history, religion, politics, current events. The kinds of things college students are supposed to be interested in and studying,” Okholm said. “But for those APU students who are Christians it is even more significant, since this event has to do with members of their first family, the Body of Christ. We are all impoverished if we are ignorant of significant members of our first family, the Church.”