Catholic church welcomes unorthodox pope: Francis I brings humility and controversy to the church

Kate Baxendale

With the election of Pope Francis I on March 13, the Catholic Church and UMKC community have witnessed history in the making.

Francis is the first non-European pope chosen in more than 1,200 years. He is also the first member of the Jesuit order to rule the Catholic Church.

“The Cardinals’ selection definitely says something about demographics,” said Dr. Gary Ebersole, professor of history and religious studies. “The word Catholic means ‘universal,’ and the fastest growing Catholic population not in Europe but in Central and Latin America and Africa.”

Formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, the new Pope chose his papal title in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.

The Pope called St. Francis a familiar figure throughout the world, known for helping the poor and the sick and setting an example “to make society more humane and more just.”

Like St. Francis, the Jesuits are known for their service to society’s most vulnerable populations.

Pope Francis has been, in keeping with the Jesuit ideal of simplicity, wearing plain white cassocks in his first days of papacy.

He chose to ride in a minibus with his fellow cardinals instead of a private Vatican vehicle. Francis even declined to live in the Apostolic Palace.

He currently resides in a suite in the Vatican guesthouse.

The inaugural mass for Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square was vastly different than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s in 2005.

The ceremony for Francis lacked the traditional gold, silk and lace present at previous inaugural masses.

Francis did, however, receive the Fisherman’s ring, which symbolizes the first Pope St. Peter.

“There will certainly be a lot of pressure for him to wear traditional papal adornments,” Ebsersole said.

Ebersole explained how the Catholic Church is in great need of reform, which is why the church turned to a religious order for a new Pope. However the church turned to the Jesuits for the first time in history.

“New Popes are largely unknown, and the church tends to project its own hopes and dreams on the new candidate,” he said. “But it is impossible to tell what a new Pope’s vision for the church will be, especially this early.”

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