From his willingness to cook his own meals and get around by bus, to his choice of St. Francis as inspiration for his name, the newly elected pope has stressed humility and a simple life that could signal a change in tone at the center of the Roman Catholic Church.
President of Ram Catholic Zac Armstrong said that while there are many firsts in this papal election of Arch Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, 76, he thinks the church won’t change much as a result.
“The first 600 years of Christianity, these popes were considered the unquestioned head of all of Christianity and all of Christianity today has some root in the decisions of popes and at the decisions of the Catholic Church in those first 1600 years,” Armstrong said. “There is a point in the Bible where Jesus says to Peter, ‘You are rock and on this rock I will build my church.’ Each pope is considered the successor of Peter.”
Trained as a chemist before entering the priesthood, Bergoglio became the rector of the Jesuit seminary from which he graduated. He was named archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and became a cardinal in 2001.
“The fact that he’s got a science background is cool for me because I’m a science major,” Armstrong said.
As a Catholic worshiping in Colorado, Armstrong said he thinks the Denver Diocese became a center of Catholicism in the world after Pope John Paul II’s visit to Colorado for World Youth Day in 1993. Armstrong said that the Catholic seminary in Denver is more full now than it ever has been in its history.
“They’ve been doing new construction down there for the last couple years just to fit all the young men who want to become priests,” Armstrong said. “The seminary is strong. They’re training priests from all over the country and exporting priests all over.”
Pope Francis follows in a line of conservative-leaning Popes. While some youth turn away from the church because of it’s conservative stance on issues, Armstrong said those values are exactly what appealed to him in his conversion to Catholicism.
“That living organism of the Catholic Church is still alive and the church would still argue that it is still the leader of all of Christendom,” Armstrong said. “The Catholic Church was established by Christ to interpret the Bible just like the government interprets the constitution.”
Armstrong said he, along with many other Catholics around the world, prays for the Pope everyday.
“Everybody prays for the pope because it’s a very difficult job,” Armstrong said. “In every age, each papacy has different challenges and in this age it’s no different.”
Bergoglio spent most of his career teaching priests and advocating for the poor through times of economic crisis in his home nation.
“His own matter of life shows he takes his vow of poverty very seriously,” said the Rev. Drew Christiansen, visiting scholar in the theology department of Boston College.
Bergoglio eschewed many of the customary trappings and luxuries afforded to senior prelates, especially in Latin America, Christiansen recalled. Like his predecessor, Bergoglio is equally committed to conservative, traditional doctrine, people who know him say. He was a staunch opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage and once said allowing gay couples to adopt constituted discrimination of the children.
Fellow Jesuits, whose order is known for an emphasis on education and intellectual rigor, said they were shocked that one of their own had been elevated to the papacy.
“The Jesuits are used to serving and often resist becoming bishops, so to see one become pope I see as a call to service, a strong summons and not an ambition,” said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Jesuit.
“He always had a reputation for being a very holy man, intense and deeply committed to prayer,” said the Rev. Matt Malone, editor of the Jesuit magazine America. “But he is not going to make moves to somehow change church teachings on the core issues.”
The first time Javier Donetti, a musician and teacher in the small Argentine town of Recreo, met Bergoglio in 2010, he didn’t even realize that Argentina’s top religious authority was shaking his hand.
“He was so humble and unassuming, I thought he was the doorman,” said Donetti.
Bergoglio himself put it this way, in last year’s speech: “Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.”