It appears that my decision to not follow any of the pre-conclave speculations on papal candidates saved time and energy; Pope Francis seems to have taken most commentators by surprise. I am surprised too; I had, to my recollection, never heard of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio before yesterday. The two or three minutes during which he was on the balcony were hardly sufficient to form any adequate idea of the man, but he made a strong and favourable impression on me. Notice that he spent most of those minutes praying with and for the people gathered to greet him. A good beginning.
Among the three or four bits of background that are floating up into news reports is the observation that he has been known in Argentina as an unusually humble and self-effacing cleric, eschewing most of the pomp of his office in favour of a life of relative simplicity. His choice of name would seem to be indicate that such observations are relevant to the kind of pope we can expect him to be. I am personally an enthusiast for papal pomp — the restoration of which was for me one of the attractive aspects of Benedict XVI’s reign — but I can also see the appeal of a principled (as opposed to a desultory) simplicity, such as one finds in Benedictine monasteries and (naturally) in the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
The two most informative pieces I have seen on Pope Francis were both written before his election. John Allen, who is generally regarded as being the best informed and most astute Vatican journalist in the English-speaking world, wrote a profile of him a few weeks ago, and back in 2005 the Catholic Herald published a fairly lengthy essay by Jose Maria Poirier about him after Benedict XVI’s election:
If he were Pope? Everything suggests that his approach would be above all pastoral, which is what a number of the cardinals were looking for in the conclave. He would govern the Curia with a sure hand, as he does his diocese. He would likely take a firm stand with the powerful of this world. But the modern-day media demands on the papacy would be a torture for this most retiring of Church leaders.
It would be a torture for most of us, I expect. The Holy Father made it clear in his first address that he wants the Catholic faithful to pray for him; Janet Cupo has posted a few suitable prayers.