Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a former Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Argentina’s Provincial superior of the Society of Jesus this year on March 13 was elected as Pope Francis by 114 cardinal, during the two-day ballots in the Sistine Chapel.
He is a modest railway worker’s son who became a Jesuit and priest and is sympathetic to people of the working class. In 2001, pope led the Synod of Bishops in Rome, and so earned the respect of Cardinals. In recent years, J. M. Bergoglio criticized governments of former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and the current president Cristina Kirchner because of the poverty and corruption and fought against same-sex marriage in Argentina unsuccessfully. For the first time in almost 1300 years Francis is the first Pope not from Europe and the first from Latin America.
After the elections the new head of the Catholic Church sent a clear message that his pontificate will be different from Benedict XVI who resigned in the previous month (February, 2013). Pope revealed his feelings during the audience to hundreds journalists from all the world who gathered in the Vatican to whom he explained that he chose the name by Francis Assisi – the holy who is regarded as symbol of peace, asceticism and service to the poor. Pontific said to the crowd that Catholics must remember that the heart of the Church is not the pope but Jesus. Francis took the authority of 1,2 billion Catholic community in the world in times of crisis when the Church is affected by pedophilia scandals as well as scandals related to presumed Vatican bureaucracy intrigues and corruption. He noted that the Church like any other institution has its virtues and sins, and urged to journalists to do their job focusing on the truth, goodness and beauty.
For the first trip from Rome, Pope Francis chose the Italian island of Lampedusa which became the gateway for thousands of migrants from Africa who are fleeing from the conflict and economic difficulties in their countries hoping to enter the European Union. In this way, Pope wanted to show solidarity for tens of thousands of refugees who did not afraid of dangerous journey and reach the island in primitive crafts every year. During this visit Francis honored migrants who have died trying to reach Europe by sea. To select Lampedusa as purpose of the first important trip is a very symbolic to Francis who during his pontificate promised to focus on the problems of the poor and urged the Church to return to its traditional mission – to serve the poor. The Holy Father urged Lampedusa Island residents to end indifference to difficulties which refugees face. Although local residents have repeatedly expressed outrage and disappointment because of migrants and the Italian government inaction, their relationship with the newcomers were quite good – people of Lampedusa often supplied food or other assistance to newcomers voluntarily.
On Monday Pope Francis went to Brazil – a country in which Catholic community is decreasing and in which people are unhappy by government spending. For Francis it is the first trip abroad. On Friday, July 19, Pope Francis visited his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus to ask to accompany him in journey to Brazil as well as young people who have been invited to come with Benedict XVI and will gather in Rio de Janeiro. According to the 76-year-old pontiff, one of the goals of this trip is to encourage young people to integrate into society and to convince the public not to abandon youth. This week the head of the Catholic Church will try to convince young people that the Church is able to renew itself in a crisis caused by the scandals on financial matters and sexual exploitation of children. In sermon he urged the priests, parents and teachers to teach young people the values that can help to them to build fairer, more united and fraternal country and the world.
On Wednesday Pope Francis warned Latin America not to legitimize drug use, intervening in a heated debate in his home region after the first public Mass during his historic visiting in Brazil. Pontiff, who was born in Argentine and called for defense of poor and vulnerable people, strongly opposed to drugs, met with people addicted to crack – the poor quality cocaine and participated in the opening of alcoholics and drug rehabilitation section in hospital of Rio de Janeiro managed by the Franciscan. The first Latin American pope, sacrificing Mass in one highly respected shrine in neighboring state of Sao Paulo warned Catholics to deny “ephemeral idols” such as money and power.
Francis became the third pope to visit the shrine after John Paul II who did it in 1980 and Benedict XVI who visited it in 2007. Although being quite popular, Francis became a target of protests because of 53 million dollars that were used for organizing the Pope’s visit and World Youth Day by the Brazilian government.
Brazil is the largest Catholic country but the Catholic community decreases more and more when people are turning to evangelical churches or distance themselves from organized religion. In 1970 census more than 90 percent people identified themselves as Catholics. Meanwhile, this year’s data shows that 57 percent people consider themselves as Catholics and 28 percent Evangelical. In Rio de Janeiro only 40 percent of the population consider themselves to be Catholics and nearly a quarter of people defined themselves as being “without religion” at all.