March 14, 2013 (Population Research Institute) – He is a collection of firsts: the first non-European pope, the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit pope, and the first pope to call himself Francis. Of the 5,800 journalists who were covering the conclave, none came even close to predicting the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy. Once again, as in the case of the Blessed John Paul the Great, the Holy Spirit has surprised us all.
By now everyone knows that the former archbishop of Buenos Aires is the Argentine-born son of an Italian railway worker who leads a life of apostolic poverty. He lives in a small apartment, cooks his own food, and rides the local buses to work. He looks for the lowest place at meetings of bishops. He flew coach class to the conclave, traveling alone without a secretary. And before giving his first blessing as Pope to Catholics around the world, he asked them to pray for him. There is no pretension here.
Because of his humility and spartan lifestyle, everyone takes his name, Francis, to refer solely to the justly famous founder of the Franciscan order. But we wonder if it isn’t also a reference to another Francis, St. Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuit order and one of the greatest missionaries of all time. This is, after all, the age that the Church has declared as the “New Evangelization.”
He has also been steadfast in his defense of life, marriage and family at a time when all have been under attack in his homeland of Argentina.
“Abortion is never a solution,” then-Cardinal Bergoglio said on September 16th, 2012. “We listen, support and understanding from our place to save two lives: respect the human being small and helpless, they can take steps to preserve your life, allow birth and then be creative in the search for ways to bring it to its full development.”
When the bishops of Latin America issued the Aparecida Document on October 2, 2007, the new Pope said that while “we aren’t in agreement with the death penalty, in Argentina we have the death penalty. A child conceived by the rape of a mentally ill or retarded woman can be condemned to death.”
The Aparecida Document itself, to which the new Pope was a signatory, dealt with Catholic public figures who endorsed abortion and yet presented themselves for communion. It said “we should commit ourselves to ‘eucharistic coherence’, that is, we should be conscious that people cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, in particular when abortion, euthanasia, and other serious crimes against life and family are facilitated. This responsibility applies particularly to legislators, governors, and health professionals.”
When Vice President Joe Biden goes to Rome to pay his respects to the Pope, in other words, he would be wise not to present himself for communion.
When the issue of gay “marriage” arose in Argentina, the new Pope argued strongly against it, saying “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God's law engraved in our hearts. Let's not be naive, we're not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
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Secular liberals who were hoping that the new pope would compromise the age-old teachings of the Church concerning marriage and family will no doubt be disappointed to learn that Pope Francis is, after all, Catholic.
The new Pope has also been a stalwart defender of life at the other end of the age spectrum as well. On October 11, 2011, he pointed out that “Children are strength and hope, while the elderly are treasures of wisdom. Help us, Our Lady of Luján, to take care of the little ones and the elderly. Help us to protect life from the time they are waiting [to be born] until they take their last breathe along the way.”
Earlier, in February 2005, he chose to celebrate the Mass for Holy Thursday in a maternity hospital in Buenos Aires, where he washed the feet of 12 expectant and new mothers. Before he washed their feet, he told them that “Some of you are holding your babies in your arms. Others of you are carrying them in your womb. All of you are women who have chosen life. I, as a priest, am going to repeat the act of Jesus, and carry out a concrete act of service for women who have said yes to life. In washing your feet, I am washing those of all mothers, and of my mother, who felt me in her womb.
All of this is a tremendous encouragement to Catholics in general, and to American Catholics, in particular, as they face a bruising battle with President Obama over his abortion mandate and his push for same-sex marriage.
We must go out and confront the world, Pope Francis insists, not simply sit in the pews. “Jesus teaches us another way,” he told his priests in Argentina last year. “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.”
Habemus Papam, indeed.
Steven Mosher is the President of PRI. Carlos Beltramo directs PRI's European office.
This article originally appeared on the website of the Population Research Institute and is reprinted with permission.