By Pastor Bill Mugford
Facing the twin specter of the annihilation of her marginalized people and exposing a ruthless henchman in a death-defying act of speaking truth to power, the Biblical Queen Esther chose to believe she had arrived on the world stage with a mandate, posed as a question: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
This week, a new Pope is elected. It is not a “royal position,” but many – including himself – seem to believe that Francis comes to a position of leadership for a little more than one-half of the world’s Christians, “…for such a time as this.”
By choosing his papal name, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina distinguishes himself as Pope Francis I and – in what is termed an “unprecedented” way - links himself to two others known for poverty, pastoral, priestly and protector gifts.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, this Pope takes Jesus’ admonition, “Blessed are the poor,” (Luke 6:20), seriously: vowing poverty; selling a luxurious Archbishop’s residence; living as Cardinal in a tiny Buenos Aires apartment; cooking for himself; and riding the work-a-day bus with his parishioners in the bustling chaos of a developing-world city.
Emulating St. Francis and reminiscent of the towel-bearing Great Shepherd, Jesus (John 13:1-17), this Pope is unabashedly a pastor who leads by example, admirably washing and kissing the feet of AIDS patients on their deathbeds in hospice and embracing the callouses of drug users with a servant’s hands. There is no room for stigma in this fearlessly compassionate shepherd’s heart.
As St. Francis cared deeply for his 12th century Church in ruins, so this Francis is determined to live out his priestly calling as “pontiff”(lit. “bridge-builder”): representing God to the world; proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus with integrity, humility and simplicity; and representing the people to God while rebuilding the Church – a daunting task.
Finally, Francis I is akin to his other namesake, St. Francis Xavier, the penultimate Jesuit. This new Jesuit Pope – the first of his kind – is educated, intellectual and as accustomed as his predecessor to speaking Biblical truth to secular power. He is a renowned activist-apologist, standing against abortion and for traditional marriage to the displeasure of his Argentinian President. While the Gospel is surely “a lion which needs no defending,” the advocate-protector of doctrine is clearly the role of this, and every, Christian elder (Titus 1:9).
Francis. For your love for the last, the lost and the least - especially those living with HIV&AIDS - we welcome and will pray for you.