In the flood of today’s news reports and blog posts on the new pope, I enjoyed these two articles on a couple of this papacy’s big “firsts.” At the Chronicle of Higher Education , historian Philip Jenkins gives some background on Pope Francis’ native country and the situation of the Church there:
The more we examine Argentina, the more perfect Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio seems as a choice, even for the more conservative Europeans. If we imagine an Italian cardinal grumbling at being forced to look overseas for a pope, it quickly becomes clear why an Argentine would be the most attractive choice. While North Americans tend to lump Latin American countries together, Argentina is in fact distinctive.
It is by far the most European nation on its continent, and specifically the most Italian. People of Italian heritage represent a large proportion of its population, and in the late 19th century it was the favored destination of those Italian migrants who did not head to the United States . . . .
Additionally, the Argentine church faces problems that are immediately recognizable from Rome or Madrid. While the country has small Pentecostal and evangelical minorities, they are nowhere near as strong as in neighboring Brazil or Chile. Instead, the greatest challenge comes from secularism; perhaps 15 percent declare themselves nonreligious, and the great majority of self-declared Catholics practice the faith minimally, if at all. Many notional Catholics spurn the churchs attempts to intervene in the public realm.
And on CNN’s Belief Blog , Fr. James Martin, S.J., reflects on what it means to have a Jesuit pope. After mentioning Pope Francis’ spiritual formation, lengthy training, and vow of poverty, Fr. Martin makes these two points:
Jesuits are asked to be, in St. Ignatius’ Spanish tongue, disponible : available, open, free, ready to go anywhere. The Jesuit ideal is to be free enough to go where God wants you to, from the favela in Latin America to the Papal Palace in Vatican City. We are also, likewise, to be indifferent; that is, free enough to flourish in either place; to do anything at all that is ad majorem Dei gloriam , for the greater glory of God.
[And] we are not supposed to be climbers. Now heres a terrific irony. When Jesuit priests and brothers complete their training, they make vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and a special vow to the pope with regard to missions; that is, with regard to places the pope wishes to send us. But we also make an unusual promise, alone among religious orders as far as I know, not to strive or ambition for high office.
St. Ignatius was appalled by the clerical climbing that he saw around him in the late Renaissance, so he required us to make that unique promise against climbing. Sometimes, the pope will ask a Jesuit, as he did with Jorge Bergoglio, to assume the role of bishop or archbishop. But this is not the norm. Now, however, a Jesuit who had once promised not to strive or ambition for high office holds the highest office in the church.