Pope Francis

March 20, 2013


As printed in the Mid Hudson Times, March 20, 2013

A momentous election has just taken place.

Unlike civic elections, which normally allow nearly two months for the new leader to move in, the moment Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was selected as pontiff, and the moment he selected his papal name – Francis – he became leader for 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide.

For this Jesuit to choose the name Francis gives me great hope for the Church and its rich traditions: both intellectual and popular and religious. I pray that members of all the religious congregations – Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans etc. – will heartily enjoy renewing their legacies.

As the product of a Jesuit High School and then a classic Franciscan liberal arts education, I know people everywhere love Francis of Assisi. He is a lover of animals, an environmentalist, a reformer, a poet, and a mystic. Francis transcends all different faiths, believers and nonbelievers. He has captivated the imagination of billions of people since the 13th century.

And he is the patron saint of Italy. Of course the Italians in St. Peter’s Square last week loved the name, chanting “Francesco, Francesco.”

A time of a new pontiff is a large and extended moment in which we come together to honor our past, celebrate its renewal and stretch our imaginations towards ways in which we can deepen and expand it.

The Jesuits, it has been noted, have a tradition of academic excellence. That this pope believes in collaboration with the popularity of St. Francis of Assisi bodes well for the Church.

My own fascination with Francis of Assisi began at the age of 13, when I providentially met the mother of a Franciscan friar on the street. Confiding to her my desire to do something meaningful with my life, I was told in no uncertain terms to “go to the Franciscans.”

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that was one of those defining moments.

At San Damiano, the Crucified appeared to Francis and commanded him to “Go, rebuild my Church, which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” to rebuild it not just by repairing local chapels, as Francis first thought, but by renewing the Gospel life within the Church. It is precisely this living of the Gospel life in the footsteps of Christ, and specifically of the poor and crucified Christ, that became the “rule and life” of the Franciscan movement.

This devotion touches directly on the mission of education, from its magnificent origins in the 13th century at the Universities of Paris and Oxford and Bologna, down to our own day and age.

With St. Paul we know that that all the knowledge in the world is a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal (l Cor. 13:1) unless it is animated by a genuine, humble and practical love.

Francis was at once both wholly apostolic and wholly Catholic. He had a unique ability, which we can only hope to share in.

Francis renewed the Church not in some offbeat or revolutionary way, but by the radical practice of the Gospel in the concrete Church of his time, whose sins he knew all too well but which he nonetheless loved, “warts and all.”

St. Francis’s ideal of building and serving community is especially illuminating. This ideal, in turn, can only take root and thrive in a community whose fundamental tenor is one of moral goodness -- and we need to remind ourselves that morality is essentially defined not by the observance of rules but by the attainment of goodness.

The Church today faces many challenges to be addressed. I think the Church needs a good administrator, a good communicator, someone who’s going to reform the Church and evangelize, and I think Francis of Assisi was all of that.

And I think Pope Francis’ statements as Archbishop of Buenos Aires indicate social justice is very key to him. He is a pope of the people for the people and I think that is going to resonate very well with people across the world.

Kevin Mackin, OFM
Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh