From the moment he stepped into the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica upon his election to the papacy on March 13, 2013, His Holiness Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention for his simple message of God’s boundless love and mercy. Here are 10 things you need to know about His Holiness Pope Francis:1. Pope Francis is a pope of many “firsts”.He is the first to take the name “Francis,” after Francis of Assisi, the itinerant friar and great saint of the poor and the downtrodden. He is the first pope from the Americas, having been born and raised in Argentina by Italian immigrants. He is the first pope from the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, that produced great evangelizers and reformers. Finally, he is the first pope to have been ordained priest after Vatican II, the ecumenical council that modernized the Church. For Pope Francis, Vatican II was a “beautiful work of the Holy Spirit,” and a “renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel.”

2. Pope Francis sees himself as a sinner.Yes, a sinner just like anyone, but one whom the merciful Lord had looked upon and called to a life of service. His religious experience can be summed up by his motto: Miserando atque Eligendo. The phrase, which is from the Homilies of Bede the Venerable, is Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s episcopal motto, that he has retained as pope. Its English translation is “By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him.” Bede was reflecting on how the Lord Jesus Christ called Matthew, who was a detested publican. In his mercy, the Lord told Matthew, “Follow me.” Francis, who was a club bouncer at one point in his life, tells fellow Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro in an interview: “That finger of Jesus pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him… like Matthew.”

3. Pope Francis believes the Church should be more like a “field hospital after battle,” with bishops serving as true pastors and priests spending more time in confessionals, consoling wounded souls.“The ministers of the Church,” he says, “must be ministers of mercy above all.” Priests should shun careerism or the lure of moving up the hierarchy. Bishops must avoid the “scandal” of being “airport bishops” and must tend to the flock in their charge. “The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost,” he says.

4. Pope Francis wants to keep it simple but “cannot live without people.”Limousines are simply not the cup of tea of this frugal pope, who rode commuter trains as bishop in his native Buenos Aires. To this day, the Pope carries his own briefcase, and he has kept his old ring as well as the silver pectoral cross he has used since being created cardinal in 2001. Much has also been written about the Holy Father’s decision to live at Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican residence for visiting clergy, rather than at the Papal Apartments in the Apostolic Palace. Pope Francis clarifies that the living quarters of his predecessors, while large and tastefully decorated, are not luxurious. The reason for not moving into the palace was simply to be able to meet people. He tells Fr. Spadaro: “I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”

5. Pope Francis only has the deepest of affections for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, his “brother” who now lives in a monastery at the Vatican.“He is a man of God, a humble man, a man of prayer,” Pope Francis told journalists aboard the flight back to Rome after World Youth Day 2013 in Rio. “Two popes” at the Vatican doesn’t bother him at all. “It’s like having your grandfather in the house, a wise grandfather. When families have a grandfather at home, he is venerated, he is loved, he is listened to. Pope Benedict is a man of great prudence. He doesn’t interfere!” Pope Francis is thus supportive of his predecessor’s own reforms such as allowing the wider use of the Traditional Latin Mass, which he has described as “prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity.”

6. Pope Francis is a reformer; he is not afraid to shake things up.The Holy Father proceeded with reforms at the Institute for the Works of Religion (known as the Vatican Bank) that began under his predecessor Benedict XVI. In February 2014, he established a new office, the Secretariat for the Economy, which will serve as the Vatican’s financial watchdog. The Secretariat reports to the new Council for the Economy, which will have seven cardinals and bishops, but also an unprecedented membership of seven lay experts. Earlier, Pope Francis formed an advisory body made up of eight trusted cardinals, whose job is to advise him on reforms in the Roman Curia and the governance of the Universal Church.

7. Pope Francis says “no” to an economy of exclusion.The Holy Father reinforced Catholic Social Doctrine in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel”). He says “no” to an economy that promotes inequality, a “throwaway culture,” and the “idolatry of money.” He laments: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” The solution lies at resolving, without delay, the structural causes of poverty. Welfare is only a temporary response. What’s also needed is a rejection of financial speculation and absolute market autonomy.

8. Pope Francis warns Christians against falling into the trap of spiritual worldliness,” which is “self-centeredness cloaked in an outward religiosity bereft of God.“Spiritual worldliness which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church,” the Holy Father explains in Evangelii Gaudium, “consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being.” Having a worldly church can take the form of ostentatious preoccupation with doctrine and prestige, social or political gain, or a social life “full of appearances, meetings, dinners and receptions.” It can be a “business mentality” in which one is “caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations whose principal beneficiary is not God’s people but the Church as an institution.” To avoid this, the Church must “constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ, and her commitment to the poor.”

9. Pope Francis is a fervent devotee of the Blessed Mother.Upon his election as Pope, Francis made it a point to visit Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, twice, to pray the rosary and entrust his pontificate to the Mother of God. Latin America, where the Pope hails from, is particularly known for its closeness to the Blessed Mother, and is home to great Marian shrines like Guadalupe and Aparecida. Mary, Pope Francis believes, is indispensable to the work of the New Evangelization. “Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves,” he says.

10. Pope Francis is a son of the Church.The so-called “Francis effect” has become a media narrative, with some commentators going as far as anticipating radical changes in the 2,000-year-old Church. But Pope Francis has made it clear: the position of the Church on pressing moral issues is his position as well. “I am a son of the Church,” he exclaims. But in the present times, he says, there has to be concern over “concrete needs” and the Gospel making a real impact on the faithful. The Church’s strictures have to be applied with genuine love, for God’s mercy knows no bounds. The Pope says: “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”


Selected Sources:

Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, November 24, 2013
“A Big Heart Open to God: The Exclusive Interview with Pope Francis” (America: The National Catholic Review), September 30, 2013
Press Conference of Pope Francis During the Return Flight from the Apostolic Journey to Rio de Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day, July 28, 2013

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