First pope from the Americas sets tone of simplicity

Published 7:19 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In his first hours in the worldwide public eye, Pope Francis showed a simplicity and pastoral humility reflective of one possible source of his name inspiration.

Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina – who is the first pope to take the name Francis – appeared in unadorned white robes and bowed to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, asking for their blessing.

“I didn’t know Cardinal Jorge before he was elected, but I am learning quickly about him,” said Rev. Den Irwin of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Troy. “He sounds like a wonderful man, someone who is very solid in the Catholic faith and is compassionate. He is a man who loves the Lord and loves our Catholic faith, but on the other hand, really lives it.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The 76-year-old pope is the son of middle-class Italian immigrants and is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed.

The new pope often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,” Pope Francis told Argentina’s priests last year.

In taking the name Francis, the pope drew possible connections to the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi, a man who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to found the Franciscan order of friars in 1209.

He embraced a life of poverty and simplicity and going out in the countryside to preach a message of joy and peace.

The name Francis is also connected to St. Francis Xavier, a well-traveled Spaniard who became one of Christianity’s greatest missionaries, and was a founding figure of the Jesuit order, of which the new pope is a member.

Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, had explained his resignation last month — the first pontiff to step down in 600 years — by saying he didn’t have the mental or physical stamina to shepherd the church.

“It’s bittersweet to me,” Irwin explained. “I think a number of us will miss him. He’s a good man. He thought and prayed about it for a long time and I support his decision.”

Pope Francis came close to the title previously, when he reportedly gained the second-highest vote total during several rounds before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis is the first pope selected from the Americas, signaling a message of renewal. Irwin said that a large portion of Catholics live in South America and the selection by the cardinals would help energize people in that area.

“I think the future looks bright,” Irwin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.