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High expectations of 'humble' Francis

14 March 2013, 11:36

Vatican City - Jorge Mario Bergoglio can claim a large number of firsts: He became the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be selected pope and the first pontiff to take the name Francis.

But the Argentinean has set himself apart in other ways as well. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he didn't want to move into a palace or have a chauffeur, so he lived in an apartment, took the bus and insisted on cooking his own meals.

His reputation as a humble leader of the Catholic Church also emerged in his first remarks as pope on Wednesday night. He appeared dressed in papal white to a cheering crowd in St Peter's Square and instead of first blessing the crowd as per tradition, he asked the faithful to pray for him.

He also showed some humour, commenting that his fellow cardinals had gone to "almost the end of the world" to find him.

From the moment the white smoke issued from a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel to signal cardinals had elected the church's new leader, signals were also sought about what kind of chief the 76-year-old Francis would be for a church beset by infighting, scandal and dwindling global appeal.


The bar is set high as the Catholic faithful hope for a leader with the charisma of pope John Paul II, the theological rigour of Benedict XVI and the energy and organisational leadership of a multinational chief executive bent on reform.

It began with the announcement of the cardinal protodeacon, Frenchman Jean-Louis Tauran, from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica: "Nuntio vobis gaudium magnum, habemus papam." ("I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope.")
While Francis is from Latin America, his parents hail from the church's heartland, Italy. He is said to love football, tango and Beethoven and built a reputation in Argentina as a defender of the poor.

He also held by the church's conservative teachings on social issues -such as opposing abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women -leading him to clash repeatedly with political leaders, including President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

However, his opposition to Argentina's military leaders who ruled from 1976 to 1983 while conducting a Dirty War against the opposition was faint. His critics have gone as far as to accuse him of collaborating with the military authorities.

'Simple, humble pastor'

He became the 266th pope after Benedict's surprise resignation in February and after five rounds of voting by 115 cardinal electors on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Francis had been seen as a contender for the top job by Vatican experts but not as a front-runner, given his age.

Francesco Clementi, an expert on Vatican governance from the University of Perugia, said that while Francis is "a very simple man," he has significant government skills, having had working experience in many of the Church's institutions.

Bergoglio's deputy at the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Eduardo Garcia, described the new pope as "a very simple, very humble pastor".

His dance card is now certainly full. In the coming days, Francis was expected to pray privately before meeting Thursday with the cardinals who elected him in the Sistine Chapel.

He was due to meet the press on Saturday, recite the Angelus Sunday and be formally inaugurated with a public Mass in St Peter's Square on Tuesday.



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