Who is the new pope and why should we care?

March 28, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Christians of all denominations take notice of Pope Francis

Views | Mary Polding for The Clarion

Who is the new pope and why should we care?

Pope Francis (formerly Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio) was elected on March 13, 2013.

On Wednesday, March 13, a new pope was elected. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinian cardinal out of Buenos Aires, walked out of the white smoke at the Vatican to cheers of hope and excitement. He will be a man of firsts, as the first pope from South America, the first pope of Jesuit background and the first pope to take upon the name Francis. With the convenience of social media at our fingertips, it was clear to see the mixed responses of this news as a blend of joy and an outcry of “Who cares?” Well, the pope, whether you are Catholic or not, is still the pope. And the following are just a couple reasons why that may matter to you.

The pope, as the leader of the Catholic Church, is the leader of Vatican City, providing him with global leadership and influence. There are 1.2 billion Catholics, making up 17 percent of the world's population. In addition, there are 1 billion others who associate with various Christian denominations. This man could be potentially representing 2.2 billion people (theoretically – depending on your own view of course).

While many Evangelicals like to keep the line between Catholic and Protestant theology neatly drawn, it is still clear to see an allied relationship and historical tie with the Catholic Church. To many in the world, the pope is representative of the leader of Christianity as a whole, similar to the Dalai Lama. Pope Francis holds to more conservative views in politics and public policy, particularly in his views on human life and marriage – both deeply debated topics within Christian circles. With his cultural and humanitarian background as well, he is believed to offer a significant bridging point between the old world of Europe and new emerging markets.

He also carries with him some radical actions that not only support his choosing the name of Pope Francis, a name exemplifying humility and humbleness, but also indicate a shift in priorities of the Catholic Church toward social justice. “Father Jorge,” as he was referred to in Argentina, lived his entire cardinalship outside of the church mansion – he instead chose to live in a small apartment downtown with a wood stove. He was known and beloved in the city for his work with the poor and was often found using public transportation instead of the provided private car. On Thursday, March 28, Pope Francis already turned heads as he celebrated, not at a traditional basilica mass, but one at a juvenile prison in Rome where he spent the evening washing the feet of inmates.

Many view Pope Francis as a much stronger successor to the late and beloved Pope John Paul II, as opposed to recently retired Pope Benedict XVI. Despite his older age of 76, Pope Francis is regarded as offering a new and hopeful vision for the Catholic Church, and therefore Christianity. His position and selection are indicative of the shift in Catholic demographics and market emergence in the Americas as well.

Pope Francis will be faced with many challenges including significant administrative conflicts and the decreasing global reputation of the Church. Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world offer enthusiasm and optimism for his future, his global influence and stature remaining highly relevant to Christians and non-Christians alike.

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