Photo: NBC News
'Here I Am'
By Felix Carroll (Mar 13, 2013)
The Church has a new Holy Father — the first-ever pope from the Americas, the first-ever Jesuit pope, and the first-ever pope who has taken the name "Francis."
What won't be a first is having a Holy Father who supports the message of Divine Mercy.
Indeed, Pope Francis, elected today as the Catholic Church's 266th pontiff, takes over where Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II left off. He's a Divine Mercy apostle, and an early supporter of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, held in Rome in 2008. As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he addressed the Congress during the five-day gathering seven years ago that drew thousands of Divine Mercy apostles from around the world.
"It is my belief that he recognizes the importance of the Divine Mercy message for the world today," said the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' Provincial Superior of the United States and Argentina. "He recognizes it, and that's why, right from the beginning, he supported the Congress whole-heartedly."
The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception — official promoters of the Divine Mercy message and devotion since 1941 — helped organize the Congress, which was kicked off by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square.
Saint Peter's Square took center stage again today as white smoke rose over the Sistine Chapel, signaling the election of a new leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. After less than 24 hours of deliberation, the 115 voting cardinals reached a conclusion — choosing 76-year-old Cardinal Bergoglio.
"From what I'm hearing from my theologian friends, we're talking about a man who emphasizes the primacy of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is exactly what I believe God is calling us to rediscover as Catholics during this Year of Faith," said Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers.
Indeed, in a talk he gave in 2001, shortly after John Paul II elevated him to the cardinalate, Cardinal Bergoglio said, "Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord."
The Cardinal went on to describe Jesus as One who stands ready to forgive all sinners, as "One who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a 'never falling down' but an always getting up again."
Bergoglio's choice of name — honoring of the 12th century saint from Assisi who lived in poverty and served the poor — underscores the new Pontiff's reputation for personal simplicity. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he chose to live in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop's palace. He also reportedly gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking public transportation, and he cooked his own meals.
Cardinal Bergoglio reportedly came in second during the 2005 balloting that ultimately elected Benedict XVI.
Appearing on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica a little more than an hour after his election, Pope Francis greeted the vast crowd. His first act as Pope was leading a prayer for his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who stepped down last month citing health reasons. Next, before blessing the crowd, Pope Francis asked the hundreds of thousands gathered to pray for him.
"He asked them to pray for him first. That, I think, illustrates the man he is. He's a humble man," said Fr. Kaz, who met Cardinal Bergoglio a year ago while on a trip to the Marians' Argentinean Vicariate. "When I met him, I thanked him for his whole-hearted support of the Mercy Congress."
Said Fr. Kaz, the new Holy Father is a man of "prayerfulness, deep faith, concern for the poor, someone with a great pastoral heart, but also someone who understands the administration of the Church."
Indeed, the new Holy Father has held several administrative positions in the Roman Curia, including on the Congregation of Clergy, Congregation of Divine Worship and Sacraments, Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life, and the Congregation of Societies of Apostolic Life.
His native land knows him as a doctrinal conservative and steadfast champion of social justice.
"As you know, the duty of the conclave was to appoint a bishop of Rome," said the Pontiff, after stepping out upon the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, "and it seems to me that my brother cardinals went to fetch him at the end of the world. But here I am."