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The legacy of Pope Francis begins
Views on his future career may be equally divided, since his papacy will be largely defined by his handling of major issues affecting the church, including sexual abuse by priests, decline in membership and the Vatican’s positions on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage and other controversial issues.
The new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis, broke several precedents with his election on Wednesday. His choice of the name Francis marks the first time in papal history this name has been used. He is the first Jesuit to head the worldwide RC church and the first from the Americas. Francis is also the first pope born outside Europe in 1,272 years—since Syrian-born St Gregory III, who reigned from 731 to 741.
The new pope, who arrived in Rome a few days ahead of the conclave as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, is widely seen as liberal on social justice but averse to liberation theology, which he views as tainted with Marxist ideology. He was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, to Mario Bergoglio, an immigrant from northern Italy, and Regina Bergoglio, a homemaker. He enrolled in a seminary at 21, was ordained a Jesuit in 1969 and went on to study in Argentina and Germany. He became a bishop in 1992 and Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998.
At the advanced aged of 76, Pope Francis is just two years younger than Benedict was when he was elected in 2005, and this is likely to be a concern. Many expected a younger man as the 266th Pope, particularly since his predecessor gave old age and health issues as his main reasons for resigning from the papacy. The new pope is fluent in Spanish, Latin, Italian, German, French and English. He is known for his outreach to the poor and his very simple lifestyle. He gave up a palace for a small apartment when he was made cardinal, travelled by bus instead of a chauffeur-driven car and cooked his own meals. He mostly keeps to himself, rarely giving interviews and maintains a very low profile.
Last September, he scolded priests in Buenos Aires who refused to baptise the children of unwed mothers. Opinion is divided on him in Argentina—some support and admire his austere lifestyle, while others disapprove of his strong support for conservative Vatican positions and are uneasy about his reported ties to the country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s. Views on his future career may be equally divided, since his papacy will be largely defined by his handling of major issues affecting the church, including sexual abuse by priests, decline in membership and the Vatican’s positions on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage and other controversial issues.
Conservatives in the church may feel that it needs to represent eternal and timeless values, but the fact is that while human nature may not change, human life does, and many young people feel the message of the church does not speak to the 21st-century reality of their lives. For many other millions, however, the church’s constancy makes it a rock of security and spiritual comfort, a shelter from the storms of stress and uncertainty.
Pope Francis, then, is taking on a tough job. His election has been welcomed by church and secular leaders here in T&T who, like the rest of the world, will be looking with interest as the papal legacy of Francis unfolds.
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