After what is to me a surprisingly short period of time, the College of Cardinals has elected a new pope:
VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope Wednesday, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas and taking the name Pope Francis I.
Appearing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica a short time later, the new pope greeted a vast crowd gathered below in St. Peter’s Square with salutations in Italian and led a prayer for his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
“As you know, the duty of the conclave was to appoint a bishop of Rome, and it seems to me that my brother cardinals went to fetch him at the end of the world,” he said. “But here I am.”
There are number of interesting things about Francis I. First, he’s the first non-European to become pope in over a millennium. The last was in 731 AD, a Syrian.
Second, he’s a Jesuit. If he’s 76 now that would make him a bit younger than the youngest of my high school teachers. Nonetheless, I suspect being a Jesuit provides some insight into the habits of mind we might expect from him. Like all ordained Jesuits he has received an advanced degree, presumably a doctorate in theology.
Third, he’s 76. That’s just about the same age as Benedict XVI was when he became pope, significantly older than John Paul II was when he became pope, and a bit older than Paul VI when he became pope.
Fourth, he’s not part of the Vatican bureaucracy.
He is reputed to have a close relationship with the people of his archdiocese and to live a simple, even austere lifestyle. He’s no a scholar like Benedict XVI or an intellectual like John Paul II. By reputation he is a hands-on pastor.
His election to the papacy is clearly a departure from the past. What else it implies is the wildest of speculation. We’ll just need to wait and see.