Papa Paco – Something New and Wonderful
Every once and a while, brand new parents will look upon the face of their bundled firstborn and realize that his appearance simply doesn’t fit the name they’d picked out for him. After a moment of pondering, a suitable name will dawn on the father and mother, who will wonder why they never before considered it. It’s an exciting experience, something new and wonderful, when we’re greeted by some unexpected reality with the sense that it was ordained by God Himself. It’s exactly as it should be.
Over the last several weeks, most Catholics – professionals and amateurs alike – have considered the papabili. I made no secret of my own pick. As I heard the name of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio announced from the loggia, I was confused. It wasn’t on my list of contenders. I didn’t know what to do. My initial shock gave way to amazement when the announcement continued: qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum. “Francis … from Argentina? Francisco? Yes. Francisco. I like it. That’s exactly as it should be.”
At the time of this writing, only a few hours have passed since he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. Already, it feels like he’s been pope for a lifetime. His grandfatherly mannerisms on the loggia, his pleasant smile, and his instinctual call to prayer have filled me with hope.
Pope Francis is something new and wonderful, an unexpected gift from God. Let’s consider him for a moment:
- He’s from Argentina. That makes him the first pope from Latin America, the first pope from the Western Hemisphere and the New World, the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope in over a millennium to hail from outside of Europe.
- He’s the first Pope Francis. Pope Benedict took his name as a sign of his desire to restore Europe to the faith after the great founder of western monasticism, St. Benedict of Nursia. Pope Francis has taken his from two saints. St. Francis of Assisi was the little, poor saint who, in the vision of Pope Innocent III, held up the Lateran as it crumbled, signifying that he would rebuild the Church. St. Francis Xavier, a follower of St. Ignatius of Loyola, took the Gospel to the Far East with great success, bringing Christ to foreign lands and preaching Him with boldness. See the explanation (which I stole from Wikipedia) of the Spanish nickname Paco under the photo at the top of this post.
- He’s the first Jesuit pope. In many quarters, the Jesuits have slipped into ill-repute in recent decades for their embrace of bad theology. Nevertheless, strong forces of reform exist within some Jesuit circles, of which Francis has been a part. As John Allen put it: “He appealed to conservatives in the College of Cardinals as a man who had held the line against liberalizing currents among the Jesuits, and to moderates as a symbol of the church’s commitment to the developing world.”
- He’s the first pope to breathe with both one and two lungs. I was somewhat interested to read that Pope Francis has only one lung, having lost the other to an infection as a teenager. At the same time, he “breathes with both lungs” (see Ut Unum Sint 54) as a bi-ritual priest who celebrates both Western and Eastern liturgy.
- He is a global immigrant. Jorge Mario Bergoglio: His last name may be Italian, but his first name is clearly Spanish. His parents were Italian immigrants to Argentina. He himself speaks Spanish, Italian, German, and Latin. Francis is a pope for a generation of global citizens.
- He’s not a Vatican insider. From what I’ve been reading, Francis repeatedly refused positions in the Curia, making it easier for him to lead reform without too many personal relationships getting in his way.
- He’s the strongest proof yet that the papacy can no longer be restricted to Italy. Three times in a row, the mass media has suspected an Italian pope to step out on the loggia and been disappointed to see a foreign face. The papacy has become an institution for the world.
New? Absolutely. Wonderful? Definitely. An unexpected gift from God?
Well, look at it this way: the Almighty managed to guide the conclave to elect a South American bishop who’s not into liberation theology, a Jesuit who’s orthodox, and an Italian who speaks Spanish, all in the same man.
If that’s not a big papal gift from God, I’m not sure what is.
Papa Francisco? Yes. Francisco. That’s exactly as it should be.
But let’s call him Papa Paco for short.