Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the United States in September. Everyone from TV news crews to souvenir vendors is preparing for his visit, but many people may not know much about this pope, who is making his first apostolic visit to the U.S. Discover 10 facts about Pope Francis--from his many “firsts” to his feelings about the Popemobile.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as he was known before his election in February 2013, was born in Argentina and also served as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. His election was a sign that the European-based Roman Catholic Church recognizes its center of gravity is shifting to Latin America, where 480 milllion of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live. "It is a very beautiful sign that the cardinals gave us by electing a Latin American cardinal, now our Pope Francis," Leonardo Ulrich, secretery general of Brazil’s Council of Bishops said after the election. "It shows that the church is truly universal.” The last non-European pope was Pope Gregory III of Syria, who died in 741.
As the first Jesuit to become pope, many people first assumed Francis chose his name to honor Francis Xavier, the famous Jesuit missionary. But the newly-elected Pope Francis said he chose the name to honor St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis, he said, was, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation . . . How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor.”
The Jesuits, like the Dominicans and the Franciscans, are an order of priests within the church. Sometimes called “God’s Marines,” they are known for their fine universities like Georgetown and Loyola—and for challenging church hierarchy—“coloring outside the lines,” as one Vatican observer put it. So Francis’s election was a conundrum for the 18,000-member order—one of their own now tops the heirarchy and draws the lines. Most Jesuits have welcomed the challenge. Papal trips have so far including time for stops at local Jesuit institutions and time for private chats with local Jesuit leaders. “This is all new ground,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, who was once removed from the editorship of America magazine, a Jesuit publication, by Pope Benedict XVI. “We never had a Jesuit pope, so I think we are all trying to figure out how this works.”
When told his fellow cardinals elected him, he said, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in the spirit of penance.” His words, he said later, were inspired by a Carvaggio painting, “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which hangs in a Roman church he often visited. In it, Jesus points a finger at Matthew. “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me,” he said. “He seems to say, ‘No, not me!’”
The painting inspired Pope Francis’s motto, “Miserando atque Eligendo” — “By Having Mercy and Choosing Him.”
Instead, he lives in a guest apartment in the nearby, more modest Casa Santa Marta. Francis chose the smaller, more informal setting, he said, because of his need for community. “When I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no,’” he told America magazine. “I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”
In interview with Spanish media, Pope Francis called the bulletproof Popemobile a “sardine can” and said he didn’t like it because it separates him from people. He caused a traffic nightmare and security furor on a trip to Brazil when he hopped into a Fiat for the ride from the airport. Now, he only uses his Popemobile when his security contingent gives him no other choice.
What else from a South American? Pope Francis roots for the San Lorenzo Saints, a Buenos Aires team he has followed since his childhood. A few months after his election, the Argentine and Italian national teams held a soccer match in his honor (Argentina won). Typical of this mindful Pope, he took the occasion to speak of the influence athletes have on youth. "Dear players, you are very popular,” he said. “People follow you, and not just on the field but also off it. That’s a social responsibility.” When he travels, fans throw soccer jerseys to him and he is accumulating quite a collection, with uniforms from Brazil, Spain, Italy and Mexico.
Pope Francis has seemingly warm ties with evangelicals in the U.S. and Latin America. As a cardinal in Argentina, he played a major role in a project called Renewal Communion of Catholics and Evangelicals in the Holy Spirit, and he has had Vatican audiences with U.S. evangelical mega-pastors Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. The bridge-building continues — Warren is one of the main speakers at The World Meeting of Families, the warm-up act before for the Pope’s September visit here.
One of Pope Francis’s closest friends is Rabbi Abraham Skorka. Six months after Francis’s election, he and Skorka made Vatican history by living together for several days in the same suite of rooms, sharing meals, praying together and making plans for world peace. “I do not cease to be a Jew for him, and he goes on keeping his own faith,” Skorka, who is also an Argentine, said. “But the two spiritualities have to have a point of encounter. We cannot live in a world where we reject each other, we must build bridges.”
Pope Francis is known for making off-the-script, eyebrow-raising remarks. On his trip to Paraguay, he told a crowd of young people, “I wrote a speech for you, but prepared speeches are boring.” He then gave them a down-home message in Spanish, his own tongue, that drew deafening cheers.
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