.- American Catholic scholars and commentators praised Pope Francis as a spiritual leader for our times, with the ability to unify and renew the Catholic Church.
“As a man who can both preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ boldly and confidently, yet exhibit humility, he looks like he’s got the design for the time and situation that we’re in,” said Catholic intellectual Robert P. George, who is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.
On March 13, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected as Pope, taking the name Francis. He is both the first Jesuit Pope and the first Latin American Pope.
George told CNA that the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope is “not completely surprising.”
The new Pope is one of the “leading Latin-American Cardinals,” a strong candidate in the 2005 conclave and “highly respected in the Church,” he explained.
The professor also commented that the new Pope is “a man of simplicity and humility,” taking public transportation while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and living in a modest apartment where he cooked for himself.
George noted the new Pope’s adamant teachings on caring for the poor and observed that the Pontiff is “a strong critic of homosexual conduct and same-sex marriage,” while maintaining what he described as a humble and charitable approach.
The professor recounted the story of the Holy Father as an archbishop visiting an AIDS hospice on Holy Thursday in order “to wash and kiss the feet of twelve AIDS patients.” These actions, he said, symbolize “that the Church does not condemn the person, but affirms and loves,” even as it rejects sin.
George also commented on the Pope’s outreach to Eastern Churches, a trait that he said few people have noticed. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis served as Ordinary of Eastern-rite Catholics in Argentina, who lacked their own ordinary.
“Relations with those Churches, especially in the Middle East, is very important, especially in a time when Christianity is beginning to disappear from the Middle East because of political problems,” George stressed.
He added that it is “very important for the Church to have a continuing Christian presence in the Holy Land” and for the new Pope to understand the problems faced by Eastern-rite Churches and how to support Christians in that region.
“This is a pope that you cannot put in a box,” said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for the Catholic Association. “This is a Jesuit who is now named Francis who is also associated with Communion and Liberation. I certainly cannot put him in any ideological box.”
“Through his example and through his teachings, he is going to lead the Church so beautifully in the New Evangelization,” she remarked.
Ferguson also discussed the “global perspective” the Pope brings by merging his Argentine roots with a familiarity of Europe and the global focus of the Jesuit order.
In addition, the Pope defies clear categories and “will do a good job of uniting the Church,” she said, pointing to the new Pontiff’s diverse background, humble life and staunch orthodoxy, as well as his scholarly work and familiarity with the Curia.
Pope Francis shows us that there is not a “divide between liberal Catholic issues and conservative Catholic issues,” Ferguson stressed. Rather, he teaches us that there should be a “unity of the whole - that we defend the voiceless whether that’s the poor immigrant or the unborn.”
“The fact that the conclave came to consensus so quickly when there was thought to be no front-runner,” she continued, “indicates that he will really unite the Church.”
Echoing these sentiments was Kim Daniels, director of Catholic Voices USA, a group of lay faithful seeking to defend Catholic teaching in public life.
Daniels told CNA that Pope Francis’ election “shows that the Catholic Church doesn't fit into familiar left/right categories.”
She added that “Cardinal Bergoglio brings so much to the papacy,” as a man “of great personal holiness and humility who leads a life of simplicity.”
“At the same time he's an intellectual, a pastor, and something of an outsider at the Vatican,” she explained.
“Most of all his choice demonstrates that the Church serves the voiceless and the vulnerable wherever we find them: he's deeply committed to the unborn as well as for the poor.”
The faithful can be sure that Pope Francis will strive to follow St. Francis of Assisi in responding to God’s call to “rebuild my Church,” Daniels said.
Even from his initial address to the faithful from the balcony of St. Peter’s, she said, “we know that he seeks to unite Catholics and to evangelize the world, especially in cultures that have grown indifferent to the faith.”