On Wednesday March 13, the Roman Catholic Church elected a Latin American cardinal into the papacy for the first time in history.
After white smoke ascended from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared before those gathered in St. Peter’s Square to be introduced as the 266th pope and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Although Northwestern is an institution affiliated with Protestantism, among the student body and faculty are a few who have close ties to the Catholic Church and strong interest in the recent election of the pope.
Professor James Mead of the religion department came to appreciate Catholicism when he attended Georgetown University, the oldest Jesuit and Catholic university in the U.S.
“I have had a long appreciation for the Roman Catholic Church and its ability to be truly global as it has attracted believers from a vast range of ethnic groups, language groups, nationalities and political persuasions,” Mead said.
Even though Mead is closely affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, he followed the papal election closely and was excited Bergoglio was selected to take office.
“I was hoping it would be any one of the possible candidates from the global south,” Mead said.
Along with Bergoglio’s appointment as the first non-European pope of the modern era, he can claim two other “firsts.” He is the first Jesuit pope and the first pope to bear the name Francis. Bergoglio chose the papal name to honor St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his simple living and dedication to service.
Within Pope Francis’ first nine days, he has gained attention for modeling the ways of St. Francis of Assisi.
“The pope told the Argentinians to help the poor rather than come to Vatican City to see him,” said sophomore Taylor Studer, citing an example of the pope’s humility.
Likewise, Mead has also noted signs of the pope’s character within his first week and a half in office.
“By all accounts, he seems to be a humble person,” Mead said. “He takes public transportation and does not lord over anybody in his office.”
According to sophomore Joleen Wilhelm, a leader of Pax Cristi on campus, Pope Francis has kept security guards on edge with his lack of fear to mingle in the streets of Vatican City. However, Wilhelm said she believes this shows how personal a pope he will be.
“He is going to be a very unique pope,” Wilhelm said.
At the same time, Wilhelm finds irony in the timing of the new pope taking office during the current season of Lent.
“Lent is a time for reflection and growth and a time of reforming,” Wilhelm said.
Although it is too soon to know exactly what is on the pope’s agenda, Mead said he believes change is inevitable because Pope Francis has lived in closer proximity to the poor in the world than have previous popes.
According to Wilhelm, Pope Francis is in a position to bring a more global outlook to the Catholic Church, especially with his connection to Latin America.