A new hope in the Vatican? A view on Pope Francis

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When someone asks a question with an obvious answer, sometimes people respond with a rhetorical question: “Is the Pope Catholic?”  This is essentially another way of saying “duh.”

With Pope Francis stepping into the abruptly vacated papacy, many expressed disappointment that this new Pope didn’t have more progressive views on topics such as homosexuality and contraception.  To this, I can only ask: “Is the Pope Catholic?”  There was no cardinal capable of being selected as Pope who wouldn’t oppose these things, and to expect otherwise would be foolish.  Nonetheless, the idea that Pope Francis is the same as all of his predecessors is just not true.

Just look at the first thing he did when he was elected. He asked the crowd to pray for him, showing humility. The next day he paid his own hotel bill and refused to stay in the Vatican’s posh Papal Apartments.  I don’t like this new Pope—I love him.  He is going to be the best thing that has happened to the Catholic Church in hundreds of years.

So who is Pope Francis I? He was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936.  He’s the first non-European Pope, which is long overdue.  Perhaps even more intriguing, he is the first Jesuit Pope.  The Jesuits are the largest order of priests in the world, known for being highly educated.  Ever heard of Regis High School, Fordham University, or Georgetown University? All of them are Jesuit institutions, so trust me, these guys are smart.

Another reason that Francis earns my admiration is his choice of name. I am named after St. Francis, perhaps the most well known saint in Christianity. Francis was a rich Italian from the small town of Assisi, but he gave up his inheritance, choosing instead to serve the poor and live with lepers. By forgoing the more wealthy accoutrements usually associated with the papacy, Francis has signaled that he wants to follow the example of his namesake and refocus the energies of the church on helping the poor and needy.  How nice that a religious figure would finally recognize what the world needs from them.

These aren’t just words, names and pledges; Pope Francis has already acted on his principles.  On Holy Thursday, Francis washed the feet of twelve inmates.  Two of them were women and two of them were Muslims. This is a huge deal.  In years past, the Pope restricted this honor to Christian men, in accordance with the Biblical story the ritual comes from. The Pope included not only women, but people of other faiths, sending a stunning and important message to the world about the ability of different faiths to show respect, concern and humility to one another.

As someone who went to Catholic School for over ten years and knows the faith quite well, it’s fair to say that this is the most excited I’ve been about something in Catholicism in a long time.  If his first weeks as pontiff are any indication, Pope Francis has the power to usher in a new era for the Church, where the needs of the people are put first.