FROM the time he emerged from the St. Peter’s loggia at the announcement of the “Habemus Papam” up to his inaugural on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Pope Francis has already endeared millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His seeming spontaneity and his brand of simplicity or poverty is so apt with the unprecedented papal nomenclature that he assumed—after St. Francis of Assisi who, in his time, pursued rebuilding the church with evangelical spirituality and radical poverty.
In Argentina where he was once a Jesuit Provincial and, years later, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he simply goes by the name “Fr. Jorge” who is popularly known for taking the bus, cooking his own meals, paying his own bills, spending time with the people in the streets and living in utter simplicity. Now as Pope Francis he still dons the same austerity. With little modification, he adapts the coat of arms he used as Cardinal Bergoglio. And so is his papal motto which is the same as the one he used as bishop: “miserando atque eligendo”, taken from a homily of the Venerable Bede on the call of St. Matthew that runs “Jesus saw the tax collector and by having mercy chose him as an Apostle saying to him, ‘follow me.’” This early, this already tells about what route his petrine ministry is going to take.
Expectedly, Argentines celebrated when one of their own was chosen as the new pope that, in a few days, has won the admiration and esteem of the whole world. But not the Kirchner government that, through its own newspaper Pagina 12, did not wait a day to launch a smear campaign against the Holy Father. The Wall Street Journal reports that Horacio Verbitsky, editor of this pro-government paper and a former member of the guerilla group known as Montoneros, has dug up an old issue that associated Bergoglio who was then a Jesuit Provincial with the so-called “Dirty War” of Argentina in the 70s. Mary Anastasia O’Grady of Wall Street Journal writes: “The calumny is not new. Former members of terrorist groups like Mr. Verbitsky… have used the same tactics for years to try to destroy their enemies—anyone who doesn’t endorse their brand of authoritarianism. In this case they allege that as the Jesuits’ provincial superior in Argentina in the 1970s, then Fr. Bergoglio had links to the military government… What embitters them is that Fr. Bergoglio believed that Marxism (and the related “liberation theology”) was antithetical to Christianity and refused to embrace it in the 1970s. That put him in the way of those inside the Jesuit order at the time who believed in the revolution.”
If such should be the case, then we have a strong man in Pope Francis who is not only staunchly pro-poor, pro-environment and pro-life, but a good shepherd who can use this staff to parry the attacks of modern-day wolves. Or, like his shepherd Master, who can harness his inner spiritual strength to withstand the lashes, crowns of thorns and the crosses of this generation.