From a bouncer in a nightclub, to the head of 1.2 billion Catholics, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has come a long way.
When he went into St. Peter’s Square the first time, as usual a huge crowd had gathered. He saw a pilgrim who had, all his life, met with averted gazes, sometimes worse. The man’s skin was covered with hundreds, maybe thousands, of bulbous tumors that contorted his features. There were tumors big as blueberries pushing through the thin hair on his head, a result of a rare condition called neurofibromatosis.
Pope Francis hugged the man and kissed him on his head. The image was electrifying – in a way that only mercy can be. It was to be his own first real pilgrimage, he later related to a friend visiting from his native Argentina.
Shortly after his election on March 13, 2013, as he departed the St Peter’s Basilica, he walked past the limousine that awaited him and hopped into the bus ferrying the cardinals who had just made him their superior.
A Pope can live pretty lavishly if he wants to. And many of his predecessors have. The traditional Papal apartment inside the Apostolic Palace is one that is fit for billionaire art collectors, with priceless frescos, friezes and paintings adorning it’s walls. The drapes themselves would cost a fortune, the down in the blankets – from the rarest geese, the scones and the croissants freshly baked by the world’s finest chefs.
But Jorge Mario Bergoglio is here to make a point – that it is harder and harder to find true divinity, if one cannot forsake the lap of opulence. The Pope has elected to live in a two-bedroom dwelling in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican’s guesthouse.
Francis is the Pope of many firsts. He is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European pope since the Syrian Gregory III in 741. He is also unusually multilingual, speaking Spanish, Latin and Italian fluently and understanding German, French, Portuguese, English, and Ukrainian.
I can’t imagine this but Pope Francis loves reading J.R.R. Tolkien. He particularly grew fond of Frodo and Bilbo whom he used as examples of hopeful heroes who are called to walk a path in the unfolding drama between good and evil.
Apart from his modesty and humility, the Pontiff is also known to have a good sense of humor. When he was elected Pope, he reportedly told other cardinals, “May God forgive you for what you have done.”
Once, after being visited by an old friend from Argentina, Francis insisted on accompanying him to the elevator.
“Why is this?” the friend asked,” So that you can be sure I’m gone?”
Without missing a beat, Francis replied,”No, I just want to be sure you don’t pocket anything and take it home with you.”
At the age of 12, he fell in love with a girl from his neighborhood. He reportedly told her, “If I don’t marry you, I’m going to be a priest.” The Pontiff kept his word.
Clowning around. God didn’t mean for spirituality to always have a stiff upper lip.
The National Geographic Magazine costs me just $39 a year to subscribe. I have realized that those are the best spent dollars in my disposable income. The August 2015 issue has a cover story on this humble and yet fascinating man. It is a most interesting ‘all-you-wanted-to-know’ and by far the most comprehensive read, on not only the new Pope Francis but the Catholic Church and it’s gradual spread across the world. I never imagined that a full 17% of the world’s population is Catholic.
The title of the cover story is a question – will Francis change the Vatican or will the Vatican change him? After all, the Vatican changed every one of his 266 predecessors and not the other way around. And they have covered a wide spectrum, with some – downright diabolic, like the Borgias and the Theophylacts.
The others have simply been mealy-mouthed wimps. Pope Pius VII insisted during WW2, on remaining ‘neutral’ and refusing to criticize the Nazi mass murder machine. If instead, he had used his considerable clout among the general European populace, maybe Hitler could have been overthrown from within. But he didn’t. He was afraid of giving up his plush surroundings and ending up in Auschwitz.
Some others have even been ‘antipopes’ – rival Popes, elected from disputes over succession…(hey you aren’t the Pope, I am, scram).
Pope Francis has a lot to change – legitimizing same-sex unions, upholding abortion rights, waiving forced celibacy for it’s priests, the recognition of other faiths as equals, doing away with all the pomp and those funnily uniformed Swiss guards who look like jokers, becoming more accessible, dealing ruthlessly with corruption and cronyism in the Vatican bureaucracy and banishing organized crime from the church.
But most importantly – he has got to get past the mere pretense of being the representative of God and convince us all that the Catholic Church has tamed the skulduggery of the Vatican Bank and curbed the lascivious instincts of it’s pedophile priests. Through Pope Francis and his governance, I hope to be convinced in time, that the Catholic Church is in fact a house of God and not one that was built by the Satan.
Since he is the conscience-keeper to 1.2 billion souls, this one-time nightclub bouncer could be a very powerful Pope and do a lot of good if he chooses to. Can Francis turn the Catholic Church into something cool, warm and divine? Can he be the next St. George and slay the dragon of evil inside us?
Well, he certainly seems like dude who can.
ps: Don’t miss the Amazing 360° tour of the St.Peter’s Basilica
pps: And the Papal timeline through the ages
Here are some of my favorite Pope Pics from the NatGeo article….