June 19, 2013
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior Editor
If the abrupt exit of Benedict XVI stunned the world last month, the conclave’s choice of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis I could hardly have been more startling -the first non-European pontiff in 13 centuries not only comes from this region and from this country but even this city. Even those here tipping an Argentine Pope (usually to pander to local patriotism rather than on any more solid grounds) had their eye on Leonardo Sandri. Despite reportedly being the runner-up to Joseph Ratzinger in 2008, all the odds seemed against Bergoglio - only a decade younger than his predecessor and also resembling Benedict with an intellectual bent as his main strength rather than either the pastoral outreach or the dominance of Vatican Curia politics which the current moment supposedly demands, his Jesuit background would also seem to rule him out, given the Society of Jesus’s historically complex relations with other orders and its tendency to be ahead of the game. And while there was a groundswell of opinion that the next Pope should come from Latin America as the continent with the most Catholics (42 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion), Odilio Scherer, the Archbishop of Sao Paulo (the world’s biggest archdiocese), was overwhelmingly the frontrunner among non-European candidates as both much younger than Bergoglio and from South America’s biggest country -even if in ethnic terms he would have been the second German pontiff running.
In the first hours of the new papacy, it would be rash to anticipate his message to the world but perhaps there is already a strong hint in his choice of the name Francis. While the Jesuit saint Francis Xavier (a member of the order’s founding generation in the 16th century who features in the Guinness Book of Records as performing the most baptisms in history, mostly in Asia) may have been a factor, most people are immediately going to think of St. Francis of Assisi. In other words, the essence of the new Pope might well be a combination of Jesuit intellectual depth and Franciscan austerity - if the professional Vatican-watchers were calling either for pastoral virtuosity or the political and bureaucratic skills to master the Vatican Curia, Francis I offers neither but something potentially superior.
Whoever would have guessed that the white smoke emerging from the chimney in the late afternoon of Rome yesterday would also have a light-blue tinge? The prayers and/or best wishes of an entire nation should accompany a native of this city who now belongs to the world.