The new pope is Pope Francis. I have yet to determine whether this is for Francis of Assisi or Francis Xavier (or Francis de Sales). Most sources say it’s Assisi. So that means we have a Jesuit pope from South America who chose the founder of another religious order for his namesake. Weird, right? But it’s not weird as we look back to the writings of his predecessor.
Benedict often wrote of the decline of Europe and of its roots to Catholicism. He often looked to Africa and South America as wellsprings of the Church. He noted that, in Africa, “None of the faith fatigue that is so prevalent here [in Europe], none of the oft-encountered sense of having had enough of Christianity was detectable there.” He called upon the youth of South America “to transmit the enthusiasm of your faith to your contemporaries from all over the world!” He planned for the 2013 World Youth Day to take place in South America, in Brazil.
As Europe declines, Benedict called for the Church to look to other parts of the world for a future of vibrant culture. He has emphasized how Western Civilization has been in decline and how the world is in need of radical renewal. Pope Francis has come as his answer. He comes from a region that has 40% of the world’s Catholics. He is known for his simplicity, “a Prince of the Church who chose to live in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop’s palace, who gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus to work, and who cooked his own meals.”
He has lived out Benedict’s reminder that “that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist.” In 2001, he visited a hospice where he kissed and washed the feet of 12 AIDS patients.
In typical Catholic fashion, Pope Francis takes up the legacy of Benedict. He answers a call for renewal, and the name Francis alludes to this. God and Benedict have called him, “rebuild my Church!” (And rebuild the Jesuits while you’re at it!)