Pope Francis—a Happy Surprise

Pope Francis—a Happy Surprise March 13, 2013

Well, tell me:  You weren’t expecting this, were you?! 

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was not on anyone’s short list of papabile—at least not on any lists that I read in the last two weeks.  Perhaps he would have been, had we insular North American Catholics known anything about him.

But from the moment he asked for our prayer before he blessed us, then bowed to accept our tender offerings, I loved him.  As I’ve read more and heard more today, I feel more and more at home in the quiet presence of this humble servant of God.

Today we learned that he gave up his limousine and chauffeur, preferring to ride the bus.

We learned that he visited a hospice to wash the feet of twelve AIDS patients, and he has a heart for the poor.

He is a soccer fan (well, in his hometown the sport is called “football”), and follows Argentina San Lorenzo de Almagro, one of the five most popular teams in his native Argentina.  His favorite team has won 10 national tournaments and two regional ones, the Mercosur Cup in 2001 and the South American Cup in 2002.  In 2008, on the 100th anniversary of the team, he was given a “centennial membership” by the team’s managers and invited to celebrate their anniversary mass.  Here, he is pictured with a scarf featuring the team logo.

He’s had a sometimes tense relationship with the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, because of his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.  Here he’s seen in conversation with her.

He’s earned the respect and friendship of his brother Cardinals, and he was runner-up in the 2005 papal conclave, behind then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio with Cardinal Sean O’Malley










And tomorrow, the new pontiff will defer his official responsibilities and spend the morning in quiet prayer, making a private visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) in Rome.

As with any new relationship, we’ll start off slowly—then gradually, we’ll learn more and more about the faith and leadership qualities of this holy man of God.

Habemus Papam, indeed.

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