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A new pope

A new pope has been named for the Roman Catholic Church — a man of God and the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

After gathered at the Vatican, the 115 voting cardinals picked the 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to be the 266th pontiff on the second day of deliberations. His election to lead the church is a historical moment in and of itself.

But there seems to be much more than simply succession in the selection of this particular Bishop of Rome

He is the first non-European pope in more than 1250 years (some early popes were from the Middle East and North Africa). That’s a matter that can’t be overlooked. The Catholic population has shifted over the last 100 years or so, with the population no longer centered in Europe. Today, it’s Latin America that is the largest population base with Sub-Sahara Africa moving closer to overtaking Europe in second.

That’s not the only signal that this pope may represent a new start.

He’s also the first Jesuit to be elected to the position. And taking the name Francis for is another first for a pope. Using Francis evokes the saint of Assisi and his commitment to the less fortunate.

That seems to have been his mark as archbishop, where he has been described as a “humble man” and someone who strove to stay close to the people and the poor. Living in what is called a simple apartment, the archbishop was reported to have cooked for himself and to often take the bus instead of a chauffeured car.

Bergoglio’s past also tells us that he falls into the conservative column when it comes to matters such as gay couples or birth control. As Argentina was moving toward becoming the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, the former archbishop pushed hard for the faithful to fight the measure. He has also come out against gay couples being allowed to adopt children.

At first look, it would appear that Pope Francis won’t stray too far from the steps of his immediate predecessors, Benedict XVI or John Paul II ... both from the conservative wing of the church. But the world has been surprised before in what taking the mantle of the head of the church will do to a person.

While Francis I may not be able to immediately solve the challenges that confront the Catholic Church, including the clerical sexual abuse scandal, his awareness of social and economic injustice may lead to a reawakening of a mission of caring and calm for his church in a tumultuous world.

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