[Episcopal News Service] Pope Francis began his first full day as Bishop of Rome and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics March 14 in private prayer at a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but also encircled in prayer as an abundance of messages of support and words of expectation poured in from all corners of the globe.
Argentinian-born priest the Rev. Thomas Mansella described the new pope, whom he knew during his service as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, as a man of deep humility and faith.
Mansella, former translation coordinator for the Episcopal Church, recently served as interim rector at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Roman Catholic cathedral in Buenos Aires is just a few blocks from the Anglican cathedral and “‘Padre Jorge,’ as he wanted to be called – even as archbishop and cardinal – used to walk the few blocks from his residence to attend several ecumenical events at St. John’s,” Mansella told ENS. “On many occasions he just rode the subway to wherever he had to go. He is very low key. He says what he has to say, and then sits down.”
Mansella said Bergoglio is well respected in Argentina. “He is very ecumenical – especially with us Anglicans – and a man of prayer and great spirituality … He has spoken frequently for social justice. But because he has condemned the current Argentinian official corruption, he is not liked by the powers that be. So, perhaps by strong influence he will be a force to clean up the Roman Curia. But do not expect big proclamations.”
Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998. He was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001. He is the first non-European to lead the Roman Catholic Church in more than 1,000 years.
Shortly after the March 13 announcement, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement that the Episcopal Church will pray for the new Bishop of Rome, “and for the possibility of constructive dialogue and cooperation between our churches.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also issued a statement. “We wish Pope Francis every blessing in the enormous responsibilities that he has assumed on behalf of Roman Catholics around the world,” he said, calling the new pontiff “a compassionate pastor of real stature who has served the poor in Latin America, and whose simplicity and holiness of life is remarkable.”
There was early confusion about whether Bergoglio took the papal name in honor of Francis of Assisi, founder the Franciscan order, or Francis Xavier, one of the first seven Jesuits and the patron saint of Roman Catholic missionaries.
According to reports, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the new pope chose the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.
The Rev. Margaret R. Rose, the Episcopal Church’s ecumenical and interreligious deputy, told ENS that she hopes Pope Francis “will be a leader who risks doing some new things for the sake of the Gospel and who follows in the footsteps of his namesake in calling for the care of the poor and all creation. Our prayers are with him as we seek partnership and the unity of all Christians.”
Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench, global partnerships officer for the Episcopal Church’s Province IX, said the election is “a historic moment for the Roman Catholic Church and for the entire Latin American continent. His chosen name to me is very revealing. Hopefully he will follow the path of Francis of Assisi in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed and the dispossessed. May his papacy open the way for authentic ecumenical dialogue and the healing of broken relationships with us Anglicans and other Christian bodies.”
Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee Bishop John Bauerschmidt, co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic USA dialogue (ARCUSA), said the election “is a sign of hope for all Christians.”
“The election at the same time of the first pope from Latin America and the first member of the Society of Jesus to hold this office breaks new ground,” he told ENS. “I pray that Pope Francis will continue to build upon the good relationships that have been developed between Anglicans and Roman Catholics over the last half-century, while also breaking new ground of his own in the pursuit of the unity that Jesus calls us to.”
The Society of Jesus, whose members are called Jesuits, is known for its missionary work and its commitment to social justice and evangelization. Early in their history, the Jesuits ran afoul of the pope, the Roman Curia and some nations more than once, but mostly for political and economic reasons rather than theological ones.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory Venables, Anglican bishop of Argentina and former primate of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, described Bergoglio’s election as “an inspired choice.”
“Many are asking me what he is really like. He is much more of a Christian, Christ-centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written,” said Venables, according to a report from the Anglican Communion News Service. “He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary.”
For instance, Venables said, the former cardinal told him over breakfast one morning that “the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans.”
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis’ predecessor, created the Anglican Ordinariates in England and the United States to allow provisions for former or disaffected Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church. The controversial announcement came as a surprise to many Anglicans, including then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who had not been consulted about the plan despite having built a close relationship with Pope Benedict.
While he was primate of the Southern Cone, Venables offered oversight to conservative members of parishes and dioceses breaking away from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
The Rev. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, the Anglican Communion’s director for unity, faith and order, told ENS that the fact that Pope Francis is from Latin America, “that he seems to be a genuinely humble man, and that he has chosen the name he has signal a fresh direction … [I] hope that he will rejuvenate the Roman Catholic Church and give it fresh spirit and vision.”
Several Anglican primates issued statements about the pope’s election as they anticipate the formal enthronement of Welby, their own new spiritual leader, in an invitation-only ceremony on March 21 at Canterbury Cathedral.
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, said that Pope Francis brings with him “a wonderful reputation for social justice, care for the poor and humility. His appointment as leader of the Roman Catholic Church comes with great hope, expectations and responsibility … The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will be enthroned in London next week, meaning two of the largest Christian world communions each have new leaders to face and address the challenges of the future.”
Francis’ installation Mass is due to be held March 19 at St. Peter’s basilica.
The Most Rev. Richard Clarke, archbishop of Armagh and primate of All Ireland, said: “In company with millions of men and women throughout the world of different Christian traditions to his own, I assure the new pope of our prayers as he begins his new ministry. An Argentinian of European parentage, he brings together in his own person the cultures, hopes and spiritual needs of the first world and of the developing world, so much to be valued amidst the complexities and apprehensions of our globalised earth. He has been a champion of the needs of the poor and dispossessed, and, in the simplicity of his own lifestyle, he has sought to reflect the life of the much-loved saint whose name he now carries in the future, Saint Francis.”
The ecumenical world also is abuzz with reactions and words of hope and encouragement.
The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), called the election “a turning point in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, but it also has an impact on people of other churches and faiths.”
In a statement, Tveit said that ever since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches have enjoyed constructive dialogue and cooperation on matters of faith, witness and the fundamental unity of the whole body of Christ.
“We have learned that we are pilgrims together in the one ecumenical movement, and we are particularly grateful for the way the Catholic Church works with us on the highly significant issues of unity, ecclesiology, mission and interreligious dialogue,” he said. “Now, in close collaboration with Pope Francis, we look forward to building on this positive relationship with the Catholic Church that has been nurtured so carefully in the past.”
The Roman Catholic Church is not an official member of the WCC, but delegates and observers often attend major meetings.
In the U.S., National Council of Churches President Kathryn M. Lohre said: “All of us have seen profound growth among Christians of every tradition in Latin America and throughout the southern hemisphere. We pray all of us will be attentive and responsive to the Christian witness that is emanating from that part of the world, and we wish Pope Francis the very best as he begins his new ministry.”
Again, the Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the NCC, but the U.S. Catholic Conference and has been active with the NCC in ecumenical ministries and programs, and Roman Catholics have served on NCC commissions and committees.
President Barack Obama also welcomed the appointment in a message “on behalf of the American people.”
“As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years — that in each other we see the face of God,” Obama said. “As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day.
“Just as I appreciated our work with Pope Benedict XVI, I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security and dignity for our fellow human beings, regardless of their faith. We join with people around the world in offering our prayers for the Holy Father as he begins the sacred work of leading the Catholic Church in our modern world.”
— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for Episcopal News Service.