March 14, 2013

Francis, a pope of many firsts, faces old challenges

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Pope Francis

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Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Wednesday. Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

AP

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Visitors take photos of Pope Francis as he speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

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He asked for prayers for himself, and for Benedict, whose stunning resignation paved the way for his election.

"I want you to bless me," Francis said in his first appearance from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, asking the faithful to bow their heads in silent prayer.

Francis spoke by phone with Benedict, who has been living at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, and told cardinals he plans to visit the retired pontiff on Friday, according to U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The visit was significant because Benedict's resignation has raised concerns about potential power conflicts emerging from the peculiar situation of having a reigning pope and a retired one.

Earlier Wednesday, shouts of joy went up from the throng huddled under a sea of umbrellas when plumes of white smoke poured out of the copper chimney atop the Sistine Chapel a few minutes past 7 p.m. "Habemus Papam!" — "We have a pope!" — they chanted as the bells pealed in St. Peter's Basilica and churches across Rome.

After what seemed like an endless wait of more than an hour, they cheered again when the doors to the loggia opened and a cardinal stepped out and revealed the identity of the new pontiff, using his Latin name, then announced he would be called Francis.

In choosing to call himself Francis, the new pope was associating himself with the much-loved Italian saint from Assisi known as a symbol of peace, poverty and simplicity. St. Francis was born to a wealthy family but renounced his wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars; he wandered about the countryside preaching to the people in very simple language.

He was so famed for his sanctity that he was canonized just two years after his death in 1226.

St. Francis Xavier is another important namesake. One of the 16th-century founders of the Jesuit order, Francis Xavier was a legendary missionary who spread the faith as far as India and Japan — giving the new pope's name further resonance in an age when the church is struggling to maintain its numbers.

In choosing Francis, the cardinals clearly decided that they didn't need a vigorous, young pope who would reign for decades but rather a seasoned, popular and humble pastor who would draw followers to the faith and help rebuild a church stained by scandal.

Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, Bergoglio has also shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.

Bergoglio's legacy includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. His own record as the head of the Jesuit order in Argentina at the time has been tarnished as well.

Many Argentines remain angry over the church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in society. It's one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent regularly attend Mass.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Faithful wait for smoke to rise from a chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel during the second day of voting for the election of a new pope at the Vatican.

REUTERS

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White smoke emerges from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on Wednesday.

AP

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Crowds cheer after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday.

AP

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Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

click image to enlarge

Cardinals watch as Pope Francis speaks to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

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Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in a photograph released by Osservatore Romano at the Vatican, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Reuters



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Today's poll: Pope Francis

Do you think Pope Francis I is a good choice to lead the Catholic Church?

Yes

No

View Results