When white smoke rose from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel March 13, 2013, heralding the selection of a new Pope, it set in motion a sea change for the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the first Jesuit to assume that position in the 479 years since that order was founded. He was also the first Pope from the Americas, and the first to take the name Francis. And like his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi — who, though born to wealth, chose to serve God by living in poverty — Pope Francis embarked on this new responsibility with humility and simplicity.
Although every Pope since 1913 has lived in the spacious and elegant Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, Pope Francis decided to continue to live in a two-room apartment in the Vatican guesthouse, where he eats in a common dining room with other residents and travels to the Vatican to say mass at the Sistine Chapel by minibus.
Like his namesake, the Pope is a steadfast advocate for the poor and the disenfranchised, and like St. Francis, the patron saint of the environment, Pope Francis is among the most outspoken voices for ecological responsibility.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
From the film Pope Francis — A Man of his Word (transcript)
“In a world where we have such riches, so many resources for giving food to everybody, you cannot understand how there can be so many hungry children. So many children without education, so many poor. Poverty today is an outrage.”
“We need to be on guard against the sad danger of the globalization of indifference, which leads us to slowly get used to the suffering of others as if it was something normal. It’s tragic that the rising number of migrants are not recognized as refugees by international conventions.”
“The abuse of minors is an offense so brutal … we know it’s a serious problem everywhere, but I’m concerned with the Church. A priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord … The Church cannot remain indifferent to this. Towards pedophilia, zero tolerance.”
Excerpt from Pope Francis’ TED Talk, April 2017
“Many of us, nowadays, seem to believe that a happy future is something impossible to achieve. While such concerns must be taken very seriously, they are not invincible. They can be overcome when we don’t lock our door to the outside world. Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component. Even science — and you know it better than I do — points to an understanding of reality as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else.”
“How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries. Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the ‘culture of waste,’ which doesn’t concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.”
“When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?”
“Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God. Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.”
“And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.”
Excepts from Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home
“‘LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore’ – ‘Praise be to you, my Lord.‘ In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs
“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”
“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
Excerpt of a video message by Pope Francis to the 75th meeting of the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2020
“In these days, our world continues to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to the loss of so many lives. This crisis is changing our way of life, calling into question our economic, health and social systems, and exposing our human fragility.
“The pandemic, indeed, calls us to ‘seize this time of trial as a time of choosing, a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.’”
“The pandemic has shown us that we cannot live without one another, or worse still, pitted against one another. The United Nations was established to bring nations together, to be a bridge between peoples. Let us make good use of this institution in order to transform the challenge that lies before us into an opportunity to build together, once more, the future we all desire.”
Excerpt from Pope Francis’ Mission Statement for His Papacy covered in New York Times article of Nov. 26, 2013
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he stated. “I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”
THE STORIES OTHERS TELL:
President Barack Obama on a visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the White House, September 23, 2015
“I believe the excitement around your visit, Holy Father, must be attributed not only to your role as Pope, but to your unique qualities as a person. In your humility, your embrace of simplicity, in the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus’ teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds. … You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized — to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity—because we are all made in the image of God.”
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb
“My brother Pope Francis’s message — that we are all brothers and sisters — comes as an extension of the ‘Document on Human Fraternity.’”
“The message addresses those with goodwill and a living conscience, and restores humanity’s consciousness.”
In announcing its decision to award Pope Francis the Charlemagne Prize in December 2015, the Prize Committee said that Pope Francis has sent “a message of hope and encouragement” at a time that “many citizens in Europe are seeking orientation.”
It described the Pope as “a witness for a community based on values which include a sense of humanity, the protection of resources and dialogue between cultures and religions at a European level.”
The Committee explained that in “recent years Europe has experienced great weaknesses, crises and setbacks” that have seriously pushed back “all the achievements of the European process of integration.”
“The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed. The time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values.
“The Pope” — said Marcel Philipp, the Mayor of Aachen speaking to the press upon the announcement of the Award — “is the ‘voice of conscience’ that demands we put people at the center of our concerns. He is an extraordinary moral authority.”
A LIFE, IN BRIEF:
In a 2017 TED talk, Pope Francis described his own roots: “As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: ‘Why them and not me?’ I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today’s ‘discarded’ people.”
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio swept floors and worked in a laboratory as a teenager. He was also a bouncer at a local nightclub.
He studied chemistry at Escuela Técnica Industrial No. 12, a public technical secondary school, and worked as a chemical technician.
He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1958, earned a licentiate (equivalent to a master’s degree) in philosophy and taught literature and psychology in high school while pursuing a degree in theology. In 1969, he was ordained a priest and he took his final vows in the Jesuit order in 1973.
He studied theology in Germany in the 1980s, became Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and a Cardinal in 2001.
His humility and care for the poor informed his work in Argentina where, even after becoming Archbishop, he continued to travel by bus and subway, paid his own bills and preferred to live in a simple apartment rather than the Archbishop’s Palace.
On March 13, 2013, at the age of 76, Bergoglio was named the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church which came with a number of firsts: the first Pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit Pope, the first to be known as Pope Francis and the first non-European since the Syrian Pope Gregory who died in 741 A.D.
His reign has been marked by his concern for the poor and the dispossessed and the environment.
In June 2015, Pope Francis released a 184-page encyclical, “Laudato Si,” on the dangers of climate change.
In August 2018, he approved a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that now considers the death penalty “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
In February 2019, the Pope convened a Vatican summit, “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” attended by 190 church leaders, and he announced in December 2019 that end of “pontifical secrecy” in matters related to sexual abuse.
At 85, when not traveling, he continues to rise at 5 a.m. for two hours of prayer, scripture study and preparing the morning’s homily. At 7:00, he celebrates Mass at Santa Maria, the residence where he lives. He eats breakfast in the communal dining room. Then he either works at his home office or travels to the Apostolic Palace to address formal audiences. Lunch at 1:00 is usually followed by a brief nap and back to work, prayers, dinner in the Santa Maria cafeteria at 8:00 and to bed by 9:00 after thanking his staff, the Swiss Guard, Vatican security and the hotel staff.
ACHIEVEMENTS WE WLL REMEMBER
Pope Francis is credited with helping to restore full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
His papacy has been marked by interfaith cooperation. When Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople attended Francis’ installation as Pope in March 2013, it was the first time since the Great Schism of 1054 that an Eastern Orthodox Patriarch had done so. And in February 2016, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow issued a joint declaration restoring unity between their two churches. In February 2019 in Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, which is credited with helping to create the United Nations International Day of Human Fraternity, celebrated for the first time in February 2021.
Through his selection of new Cardinals, Pope Francis has shifted the percentage of European Cardinals who will vote for the next Pope from 52 percent when he took office to 42 percent. While he has still appointed more Cardinals from Europe than from any other region. He has also appointed the first African American Cardinal from the United States, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory. Pew Research reports that “of the 73 newly appointed or currently eligible voting Cardinals Francis has named so far during his papacy, 38 percent are from Europe, 21 percent from Latin America and the Caribbean, 18 percent from the Asia-Pacific region, 14 percent from sub-Saharan Africa, 7 percent from North America and 3 percent from the Middle East-North Africa region.”
He has taken measures to rout out corruption and financial malfeasance in the Vatican, including establishing a special commission to investigate the Vatican Bank, an independent audit of the bank, and publication of the first annual report in its 125-year history.
Pope Francis’ environmental advocacy including his encyclical “Laudato Si,” and the subsequent mobilization of Catholic communities in support of ecological reform, is credited with contributing to the 2015 United Nations climate summit that concluded in the Paris Agreement.
THE RELIGION HE LEADS
The Catholic Church, or Roman Catholic Church, is the world’s largest Christian denomination with more than 1.3 billion baptized Catholics as of 2018 — just under 18 percent of the world’s population. The Church consists of nearly 3,500 dioceses and is the world’s oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution.
The Bishop of Rome is the Pope, a word that derives from Latin papa and the Greek pappas, “father.” The Pope presides over the entire Roman Catholic Church.
According to the Britannica, there are more Roman Catholics than all other Christians combined and more Roman Catholics than all Buddhists or Hindus. Although there are more Muslims than Catholics, the number of Roman Catholics is greater than that of the individual traditions of Shiʿi or Sunni Islam.
The Church began at the very beginning of Christianity and dates its inception to Jesus Christ and the Apostles, with St. Peter the first Pope.
From the fall of the Roman Empire through the Dark Ages, monks preserved the classical literature and learning. In the year 1,000, cathedral schools emerged as educational institutions and were replaced by the early universities of Europe, in which the Church, as ecclesiastic authority, played a significant role. It wielded tremendous power in every facet of Medieval life.
With the Reformation, beginning in the 16th century, came the establishment of other Christian churches, but the Roman Catholic church has continued as a vital force in the world.
Care of the ill is an essential Christian responsibility according to the Benedictine Rule, a book of precepts written in 516 by Benedict of Nursia. It states: “Before all things and above all things, care must be taken of the sick, so that they will be as if they were Christ in person …” Today, the Catholic Church runs 5,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with 65 percent of them located in underdeveloped and developing countries.
More Profiles in Faith:
Hindu Guru Mata Amritanandamayi (July 8)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (July 1)
Pope Francis (June 23)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (June 16)
Episcopal Bishop Michael B. Curry (June 9)