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Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio is Francis I, Church’s First Non-European Pope, Post-Columbus

| March 13, 2013

Jorge Mario Bergoglio

Jorge Mario Bergoglio

Catholics have a new pope, and it’s 76-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires–the first-ever South American pope, the first non-European pope (since Columbus, anyway, as Jim Flahrety corrected), and the first-ever pope to name himself Francis (Francis I), after St. Francis, patron saint of the poor. He is the 266th pope, and far from the first-ever to have been born closer to the 19th century than the 21st.

Finally, nevertheless, a pope we can (somewhat) believe in, though he has a very long road ahead to restore much of the church’s respectability in light of the pedophile scandal (Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, astoundingly, was among those casting votes for the new pope despite his scabrous role in protecting child-raping priests), in light of its still-enduring and discordant wealth, in light of its still-enduring and ridiculous discriminations against women, and in light of its lacking embrace of the Americas’ Catholics, north or south. All this to do in what may prove to be another abbreviated reign. The church appears incapable of getting over its fetish for doddering eminences who should be making room for leaders half their age.

This unsmiling pope has an oversize reputation for humility and popularity. He’s the sort of man who took mass transit to go to work (and held audiences with commuters on their way to work). He’s the sort of man who dispensed with the trappings of cardinals (big residences, ostentatious offices). He’s the sort of man who, after all, picks Francis for a name, the Francis of Assisi who felt more comfortable chattering with animals than human beings. The Francis of Assisi who, to the dismay of oil companies everywhere now that he’s breathing pontifical breadth (if not breath), is the patron saint of the environment. A few Greenpeace activist must right now be converting back to Catholicism. (Let’s see how long it’ll take Marco Rubio, patron saint of opportunists, to jump on the Bergoglio bandwagon and milk its Hispanic expediencies).

The announcement was still made in Latin, as it always has been, when it could more interestingly and daringly have been made in Spanish in recognition of the church’s majority language. Maybe it’s asking too much too soon. But nothing short of doing too much and quite soon can reverse the church’s decline (not just its priest shortage, but its credibility shortage). Catholicism is neither hip nor relevant, the John Paul-Benedict versions of Catholicism especially. Those versions were distinctly reactionary and hurtful to masses of people who, looking for guidance from their spiritual leaders, got idiotic lessons instead, most notably in Africa, where the John Paul-Benedict years have as much to account for over the Aids holocaust, which they did nothing to combat, as did Pius XII during the Shoah. And let’s not get into matters of contraception, homosexuality, transparency. The Vatican bank operates as if it was still 1226.

In Latin America meanwhile, the Church knows that its greatest challenge isn’t money or faith. It’s competition. Evangelicals have been piling up converts by the drove, not least because the Vatican has seemed as removed geographically as it’s been politically and spiritually. The Vatican’s inane rejection of liberation theology in the 1980s did it no favors. Rather, the rejection highlighted the desiccated institution it had become, more comfortable accommodating and exercising power, or apologizing for it, than tending to power’s victims.

Latin America has had its share. Argentina had its disproportionate share, and this pope will have to answer for some of his past, given his possibly too silent relationship with the junta of the 1970s that repressed, massacred and disappeared Argentines by the drove. The choice of Francis becomes more and more revealing, if not more potent. On the other hand, every time Brazil will boast about hosting the next World Cup, Argentina will say it has its own pope. (Argentina won the World Cup in 1978, the only time it hosted it, under the murderous gaze of junta members. It’s doubtful that the officiating was more democratic than the latest conclave in Rome.)

As for St. Francis (to whom we owe not only the talking fish, but, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the first Christmas manger scene), Valerie Martin wrote a wonderful portrait for the Atlantic in August 2000. The full version is available here.

–Pierre Tristam

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25 Responses for “Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio is Francis I, Church’s First Non-European Pope, Post-Columbus”

  1. interesting says:

    I always wonder why people who are not that great, make such a show to appear humble?

  2. John Boy says:

    A Jesuit and he studied Chemical Engineering in College, Pope Francis, The Patron of the poor, approves of birth control to eliminate sexual transmission of diseases. Republicans and Teabaggers will be complaining to no end. Marco Rubio has been reported as converting to either Jewish or Southern Baptist.

    • jespo says:

      I read Wikipedia too. There are ‘rumors’ he would support contraception that’s all, rumors. He’s also a Jesuit who towed the order his whole life and they haven’t been the church’s non reformationist expansionist go-to guys for the past few centuries without reason. Republicans will love god’s new Marine. Expect no changes in Rome, or in the rate of AIDS in Africa, or in the treatment of homosexuals.

  3. Jim Flahrety says:

    First Non-European Pope?

    1) Saint Peter: Bethsaida, modern-day Israel(33 – 64 A.D.)
    2) Pope Saint Evaristus: Bethlehem, modern-day West Bank (97 – 105)
    3) Pope Saint Anicetus: Emesa (today known as Homs), Syria (155 – 166)
    4) Pope Saint Victor I: Leptis Magna, modern-day Libya (189 – 199)
    5) Pope Saint Miltiades: Somewhere in North Africa (311 – 314)
    6) Pope Theodore I: Jerusalem, modern-day Israel and West Bank (642 – 649)
    7) Pope John V: Antioch, then Syria but today part of Turkey (685 – 686)
    8) Pope Sisinnius: Syria (708)
    9) Pope Constantine: Syria (708 – 715)
    10) Pope Gregory III: Syria (731 – 741)

  4. Jim R. says:

    That’s a hilarious comment.

  5. Jim R. says:

    That was meant for interesting says

  6. anonymous says:

    Matthew 23:9 And don’t call anyone on earth ‘Father,’ because you have only one Father, the one in heaven.

    • jespo says:

      Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
      Deuteronomy 5:16 “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

      Sooooif I can’t call my father father then what do I call him or am I to simply say hey you old guy…or is there a holy mother next to the father in heaven but that would mean she’s both his wife and mother at the same time……it’s all so confusing…NOT.

  7. Magnolia says:

    This Pope is indeed humble. He left the Vatican early this morning and went to a local church to pray, without security. He has very few possessions and he also went to collect them.

    Pray for him. I will.

  8. confidential says:

    No matter which cardinal would have been elected Pope, will be chastised big time anyway. We seem to forget that Pope’s are not chosen for sainthood but instead as the head of the Catholics and the Vatican State and they are as imperfect humans as we all are. Seems to me that there is a general intention to place Catholics on the gallows all the time for perpetual shame and scorn, wether for their religious associations, views, supports, traditions and most of all for the pedophiles cases sooner or later found and punished. Unlike in the other religions were same cases are quickly cover up and forgotten, no for Catholics as they get punished over and over again and posted and re posted by the media so we do not ever forget about it!
    Regarding the case during World War II, what Mormons, Baptist, Adventist, Protestants and others did about then ongoing Holocaust…? maybe same as Catholics did, just go to war and give their lives in the battle fields of Europe to save the lives of the innocent on concentration camps! So please stop beating a dead horse!
    Congratulations to the new Argie Pope, a good old Jesuit always fighting for the poor and the destitute and maybe just because that, will be unfairly accused of Junta collusion, something that I seriously doubt being hailed by that country workers as an “Argentinean Peronist Pope” always concerned with the poor and lower class issues.

  9. snapperhead says:

    Looking forward to the new low rider Pope mobile. Good luck Frank!

  10. jespo says:

    Horse keeps coming back to life…..have to keep beating it, sorry man.

    BTW, Jesuits paid out 166 million dollars, highest ever for child raping priests, for raping 450 Native American children from the 1940’s to the 1990’s. 57 Jesuits were never condemned by their order nor were any criminal charges filed. They wrote apology letters.

    Like I said…horse keeps coming back to life…..

  11. songbird says:


    Jesus was using hyperbole in that statement. He used hyperbole a lot. It’s not meant to be literal. We all call our paternal parent, father, and it’s not a sin. The apostles refer to their father Abraham and Isaac. And Paul referred to Timothy as his child, implying a spiritual fatherly relationship; moreover, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 4:15 that “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” I have a biological father and several spiritual fathers and I wish that others could find a spiritual father too.

  12. Jeremy says:

    No one will ever accuse Francis of Abuse. There is no abuse with a flock of nuns and aspiring nuns dieing to kneel in front of his holiness and get his blessings.

  13. anonymous says:

    When you call someone holy father that’s not hyperbolie. The point is no imperfect human can be put on the same level as Christ or Almighty God. There is no substitute. Paul never called Timothy holy child or whatever. Christ never elevated one Apostle above the other. Tell us where in the holy writings Jesus had someone kissing his ginormous ring.

  14. songbird says:

    We are all called to be holy, are we not? He may not be perfect be he’s in the seat of Peter, who was elevated above the other disciples when he was given the keys to the kingdom. I know we disagree about that Bible verse. To each his own I guess. Blessings!

  15. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    I’m curious to know where in the bible is it was mentioned or written Peter is or was to be the first Pope? If we want to discuss the history of the Papacy it truly is not reflective of a loving God. I’m also trying to figure out where in the bible it’s written that Peter received special attention? It would seem that today’s Popes receive special attention beyond what Jesus himself accepted and received. Jesus refused to allow any special expressions of reverence to be bestowed on him. As a matter of fact he said, He said that he came to serve others, not to be served. By contrast, what record do the popes have? Do they shun prominence, refuse grand titles, and avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and power?

    • Songbird says:

      Read Matthew 16:17-19. I understand that you may not agree with the Catholic interpretation of it and I accept that. I respect your interpretation and would never force mine on anyone. What the church is now has been built up over thousands of years and influenced by many, none of whom are perfect. This new Pope has shown a humility and a poverty that I have not seen thus far in my life. I hope all will join in praying for his continued attention to the heart of the Gospels and to the poor. Even the head of the Greek Orthodox church will be attending his installation. This hasn’t happened since their separation. All Christians have a dedication to proclaiming the Word of Jesus; therefore, let us hope for the best for all branches of Christianity on this earth and not make judgments against one another so we may all one day be welcomed into Heaven.

  16. Justice and Accountability says:

    If this new Pope is to have any credibility he needs to deal with the festering issue of the Vatican Bank and the World War 2 era claims, sexual abuse and then tackle AIDS and sexual orientation. If he survives trying to do a forensic audit of the Vatican Bank without being martyred, it will be a true a miracle. However since much of the World War 2 loot at the Vatican bank went to fund exiled fascists in Argentina, the liklihood is he is just a placeholder Pope and will do nothing.

  17. Monsenior Mike says:

    He is the first Latino Pope. He is humble and wears sandles. But he carries a switchblade and a can of refried beans in his pocketbook. He will be “The LAST Pope”……The anti-Christ is growing in power and the Battle of Armageddon is about to begin. Christ has returned and is in hidding until the day of the battle.
    Humans prepare and repent your sins.The anti-Christ has stolen the Arc of the Covenant . It was found in Road Island two months ago and someone mysteriously STOLED it. Police and FBI are looking for it as we speak. We are living on the Rim of the End!!!!! Our new Pope will become the ArchAngel Micheal warrior for Christ and defeat the anti-Christ at the last minute before final world destruction.

  18. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    True, Peter at times seved as a spokesman for the apostles as a whole, but does that make Peter the head of the early congregation? Although Peter was given great responsibility, nowhere in the Bible do we find him claiming to be the head of the congregation and, as such, making decisions for the disciples as a group. In his letter, he called himself “an apostle” and “an older man”—nothing more—1 Peter 1:1; 5:1.

    Augustine, a revered Church Father in your words, at one time held that the congregation was built on Peter. However, toward the end of his life, he changed his view of what Jesus’ words meant. In a work known as Retractations, Augustine argued that it was Jesus on whom the church, that is the Christian congregation, was built, not Peter. Jesus’ discussion with Peter centered on identifying the Christ and his role, not on the role that Peter would play. (Matthew 16:13-17) Peter himself later stated that Jesus was the rock upon which the congregation was built. (1 Peter 2:4-8) The apostle Paul confirmed that JESUS, not Peter, was “the foundation cornerstone” of the Christian congregation.—Ephesians 2:20.
    The apostle Peter himself told the men who were taking the lead in the congregation not to be “lording it over those who are God’s inheritance”; they were to gird themselves with lowliness of mind toward one another. (1 Peter 5:1-5) The apostle Paul warned that from within the congregation, men would rise who would “speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:30) Toward the end of the first century C.E., the apostle John wrote a letter in which he strongly denounced a disciple by the name of Diotrephes. Why the reprimand? One reason was that this man ‘liked to have the first place’ in the congregation. (3 John 9) Such counsel from the apostles acted as a restraint, thwarting for a time the ambitions of those who were seeking prominence.—2 Thessalonians 2:3-8.

  19. songbird says:


    I’m glad you’ve read so much about church history. There have been many saints who have said many things and the church has changed a lot in two centuries. It will change even more and that’s one thing most of us hope will happen with our new Pope. Of course Jesus is the center of the church. Funny you say that about Paul because he also called Peter “Cephas,” meaning “rock.” Here’s a great site for more about Peter and the church if you’re interested:

  20. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    I loved the polite discussion. I understand your stance and agree that Jesus is the center. Appreciate the tips I will research more.

  21. mary says:

    Even though I am not Catholic,black, male or ‘many other labels’, I pray for all those in leadership as God instructed.

  22. Nikia says:

    It has never been cool to be Catholic. We are always discriminated against especially by the current U S administration. Our goal has never been to be “hip” but we are very much relevant. We are the largest population of Christians in the world. Our church is broken by the actions of those that chose to prey on it. It is up to us to fix that. Every week you see the pews of St Elizabeth filled because the Church is very much alive. It cracks me up how liberal thinking likes to single out homosexuality but the truth of the matter under Catholic law is that all intercourse outside of marriage is sinful and all marriages have to be open to procreation to be considered marriage. Homosexual or heterosexual you have to abide by the same laws. You are loved by God equally. Contraception falls under those laws. They are not going to change regardless of what conservative or liberal twist gets put on it. Regardless of how attractive Evangelical churchs are many Catholics are very aware of the importance of Mass and Eucharist and there is no substitute for those. We as Christians need to stop pointing out our differences. I cannot believe that God ever wanted us to be this divided and hurtful toward each other.

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