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Pontiff can help shape discourse of world
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

So there’s a new head man sitting in the Vatican.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Argentina, has been elected to the papacy.

Pope Francis is the first pontiff from the Western Hemisphere to be selected to run the Catholic Church in the centuries that the Church has been thriving around the globe.

In part, picking the Argentinian signals a recognition of the significant growth of the Church in Latin American countries.

Francis has chosen his new name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries who gave up his wealth and military career for a life of poverty. He is known as the founder of the Franciscan Order and the originator of the Christmas manger scene.

The new Pope is said to share an intimacy with the poor.

He’s also said to be a Church “outsider,” meaning someone not on close terms with the Curia, the Church Establishment in the Vatican.

And he’s 76, which is a bit surprising since you’d expect the Catholic hierarchy to find someone a bit younger to tackle the daunting pressure points affecting the Church these days, such as sexual abuse attributed to priests around the globe, the gay and lesbian movement, and abortion, among others.

(There’s also the matter, we presume, of straightening out the finances at the Vatican Bank.)

But perhaps Pope Francis will surprise his fellow cardinals – and the world – by showing a willingness to venture out from his Vatican headquarters and engage in dialogue with all Catholic stakeholders.

Let us hope that he has, first of all, the courage to step out of the shadows to deal with these issues – issues that are of obvious importance to his flock and to the world – and to have the humility to acknowledge that Catholicism is perhaps not something rigid, inflexible – as some among the faithful believe – but, like all religious doctrine, subject to interpretation in the context of what is happening in the world.

As the leader of a worldwide religious organization, Pope Francis has been extended a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a force for world peace, for tolerance of all beliefs and for human rights.

If Pope Francis can find the inner strength and conviction to be the kind of man we’d all look up to, then the world will be a better place for it.

St. Francis of Assisi fled the political and military strife of his world to work with the poor. He is known to Catholics today as the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Perhaps Pope Francis can take a stand on the issues of endangered species and global warming.

We wish the pontiff well on his new journey.

– Ron Leir

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