Pope Francis I, the first pope from a continent where the Catholic Church has 42 percent of its members, has taken his name from St. Francis of Assisi, a champion of the poor. This is entirely fitting, given his personal history. Throughout his ministry, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio has repeatedly demonstrated an unwavering commitment to those in need, one that he has applied in refreshingly pragmatic ways.
After his appointment as a cardinal, he asked that those in his home country of Argentina planning to travel to Italy to celebrate with him donate the cost of their plane tickets to alleviate poverty. He refused to take up residence in the cardinal's palace in Argentina, choosing to live in a modest apartment instead. When at home, he takes the bus everywhere he goes instead of using the customary church-provided chauffeured car. He has visited AIDS victims and drug addicts to buoy them up and lift their spirits, as well as kiss and wash their feet. Those who know him best speak glowingly of his faith, his devotion, and, more than anything else, his humility.
For good reason, Catholics everywhere seem pleased with their new pope.
Of course, not everyone is happy with the results of the recent conclave. Some were hoping for a pope that would be more willing to bend Catholic doctrine to make it better suited to the moral fashions of the day. Secularists insist that a church that refuses to abandon moral principles is a church unsuited for modernity. Pope Francis, they say, is too conservative, too rigid, too unwilling to compromise. "I think this is a missed opportunity to bring the papacy closer to where the people are," wrote one commenter at the Mother Jones website.
In that case, thank heaven for missed opportunities, because, all too frequently, "where the people are" is not where they ought to be. We live in a time of declining values, where the distance between a person and his or her faith usually comes when the individual moves away from fixed standards that have endured for millennia. Pope Francis recognizes that it is not the Holy Father's responsibility to follow those who leave their faith behind, but rather to shepherd their return to the fold.
His steadfastness in adhering to the principles of his religion will ensure that the Catholic Church remains a strong voice of moral clarity in an increasingly muddled world.