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