“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” ~Pope Francis

Pope Francis graffiti in the "Abode of Chaos" museum of contemporary art, in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d'Or, Rhône-Alpes region, France from Thierry Ehrmann

Pope Francis graffiti in the “Abode of Chaos” museum of contemporary art, in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or, Rhône-Alpes region, France from Thierry Ehrmann

As regular readers know, this princess married into a Catholic family. The Pope matters to me not just because he’s an enormously influential world leader, but because he’s the leader of my husband’s faith. TheScott and his parents are thrilled with the new pope and the direction he’s taking their church, and I have to say I totally agree with them. Not familiar with him? There are a lot of reasons to be excited, regardless of whether or not you’re Catholic.

Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936, making him the first pope from the Western Hemisphere. (Though he is the son of Italian immigrants.) He first went to school to be a chemical technician, but after a few years in the field entered seminary to study philosophy and was ordained to the priesthood on December 13, 1969 just before his 33rd birthday. He’s a member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), known for promoting education and social justice. Liberation theology, the populist idea of fighting poverty through decentralization, is one of the Jesuits’ more controversial pushes because it emphasizes orthopraxy (correct action) as much as or moreso than orthodoxy (correct belief). (For more on ‘praxy vs ‘doxy,’ I have already written an article…with a picture of Rick Santorum, a Catholic who might like his new pope less than I do.) Though Pope Francis is not officially linked with the Liberation theology movement, it encompasses a lot of why I like him–he’s more about helping poor people and connecting with others than he is about pushing strict doctrine.

Saint Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio by WIkiarius

Saint Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio by WIkiarius

This is reflected in his chosen name. Pope Francis is the first pope to take the name of Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment, who was known for his work with the poor and his promotion of peaceful resolutions. Francis is a popular saint, much beloved for his kindness and down-to-earth nature. There’s a legend about St. Francis titled The Wolf of Gubbio, in which he saved a town from a fearsome wolf, not by shooting the wolf, but by finding it, bringing it to town and making a pact–the wolf would quit eating people and the town would feed it. He declared hunger caused the wolf to behave as it had, and so if the town would feed the wolf, it would cease its violence. The townspeople and the wolf agreed, and for the remainder of the wolf’s life, they lived in peace and friendship. I sense a metaphor…

Pope Francis went straight to practicing the kind of populism he preaches. He lives in a two-room guest house at the Vatican, instead of the more luxurious official residences of the Pope, and I’ve even read that he makes his own dinner (or at least he used to before he was Pope). On the first Maundy Thursday after his election, he engaged in ritual Washing of the Feet. This is a practice based on Jesus washing the feet of his apostles before the Last Supper (the last one he ate with his friends before his execution in which he broke the bread and drank from the cup, saying, “This is my body…” etc.  leading to the modern Eucharist/Communion ceremony). Pope Francis went to a juvenile prison and washed the feet of twelve inmates, including two Muslims and two women, and exhorted them to, “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope.” He is the first Pope to include women in this ritual, something that has drawn criticism from conservative circles.

But most of what has liberals all manner of excited (and Rush Limbaugh in a froth) is that, despite maintaining traditional stances on a lot of issues such as homosexuality, abortion, women in the ministry and priestly celibacy, he’s turning the focus of the Catholic Church away from these issues and onto the plight of the poor. Pope Francis has written lambasting consumerism and trickle-down economics and asking people to return to the joys of a selfless life. (I’m not a huge fan of consumerism, either…as I’ve written about before!) In his first major treatise, the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, his second paragraph begins:

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled. life…”

While the initial portion of the tract encourages evangelism, he conflates evangelism not with right belief, but with eschewing self-centeredness for joy and the sharing of Christ-like love. He even goes on to say that, “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction.’” [Section 15]

So yes, I know it’s currently trendy to love on Pope Francis, but I have to join the chorus. I may not agree with him on all major issues, but he seems to be moving a large force in a powerful and much needed direction.

What are your thoughts on the new Pope?

 ~ Featured Image: Pope Francis at Vargihna by Tânia Rêgo/ABr