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Francis - The Pope from the End of the World

Spanish

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from the 115 eligible cardinals made an impact on the world from the minute the "habemus Papa" was announced by the white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, where previously a European herring gull (larus argentatus, from the same root, meaning silver, as his homeland of Argentina) had been seen. "You know that the duty of conclave is to give a Bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone almost to the end of the world in their quest," he said as he emerged on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Plaza.

Bergoglio was chosen as the 266th Pope in the history of the Catholic Church on March 13, after the fifth vote by the cardinals. He succeeds Benedict XVI, who announced on February 11 that he would leave the papacy because of a "lack of strength" and he withdrew publicly on the 28th, by saying "good night" in order to become a simple "pilgrim who is beginning the last stage of his pilgrimage on earth." This gesture, which had not been used in the papacy for centuries, a rarity in these times, permitted the Argentine Cardinal to become the first Latin American Pope in history and first Jesuit Pope, one of the Catholic religious orders best prepared to face the challenges of our time, whose superior is known as the "Black Pope."

He had scarcely appeared on the balcony when the widest variety of journalists and analysts from even the most unexpected places took note of his qualities: humility, service, openness to dialogue, and brotherly love. There were anecdotes of the most diverse variety from his days as archbishop in the neediest barrios of Buenos Aires, stories of when he traveled by subway or bus to carry out his pastoral duties. There were stories about his promotion of interreligious dialogue, coexistence, and encounters with everyone, ranging from those in power as well as those with nothing.

These convictions and simplicity was what he showed when presented himself at St. Peter's Square, bowing his head so others could pray for him before he gave his first blessing, "Urbi et orbi" - to the city [of Rome] and the world. What came almost immediately to mind were the words of Mother Teresa expressing the ecumenical standard of the Gospel message: "The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace."

"Let us never forget the true power of service," he said on March 19 on being enthroned before 200,000 of faithful and hundreds of millions who followed the ceremony on TV or Internet, in the presence of religious dignitaries of various traditions and heads of state and government from 132 countries. Unity "will be our best service in a world of divisions and rivalries," he said the following day to representatives of different branches of Christianity and to Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, and Hindus. Shortly before, he had a private audience with Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world, whose representative had never participated in the initial mass of a pontificate since the schism of 1054, which divided Christianity between Rome and Constantinople (West and East).

"I would like to ask everyone who occupies positions of responsibility in the economic, political, and social spheres, and all men and women of good will: let us be custodians of the creation, which bears the design of God inscribed in nature, guardians of each other and the environment… Let us remember that hatred, envy, and pride tarnish life. To be a custodian means, then, to stand guard over our feelings and our heart, because from it come both good and bad intentions, those that build up and those that tear down. Let us not be afraid of goodness," he invited every in the homily that inaugurated his pontificate.

These words and gestures seemed to signal a revival of the prophecies of the different cultures that categorized this era as the "last days." Not a catastrophic "end of the world" according to literal interpretations of scriptures, but a change of focus and of a system of values, a return to the axis of spirituality and practice of universal love centered on God, our essence, as the key to the New Heaven and New Earth.

Francis shines like a good omen of our times in accordance with the "original dream" described by various spiritual traditions, faithful to the mandate of a popular prayer attributed to St. Francis, who was the inspiration for the name he took as Pope and whom he considers a guide: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace."

"Brother Sun, Sister Moon," the saint from Assisi used to say, shining the heart of peace into a dark era greatly in need of change. The new spiritual leader who emerged to the world from a nation "at the end of the world" in a time of crises with great dimensions ignites hope. He invites everyone to renew their commitment.

Translated by Joy Pople

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