By Adam J. Pearson
Even though I do not consider myself a Christian in any formal sense, I have thus far had great cause to support the new pope, Pope Francis. As a child, Francis suffered from life-threatening pneumonia, which gave him a deep, personal understanding of the suffering that accompanies illness. As a result of that illness, he had one complete lung surgically removed and survives today with only a single lung.
In addition, his time spent working among the poor in the slums of Argentina for many years led him to intimately relate to their plight; indeed, as Pope he has expressed serious intentions to continue helping and working with the poor. He recently renounced infallibility as a pope, admitting that he can indeed make mistakes and is a fallible human being like all others. As a Pope, Francis has followed in the footsteps of Jesus by washing the feet of prisoners, some of whom were female (a first for a pope) and Muslim. He has done the same in hospitals and elsewhere prior to his election as pope.
Moreover, Francis was a good friend of Pope John Paul II and it was John Paul who made the future Francis cardinal. For many years, he has lived simply and humbly. As cardinal, “he lived in a small apartment, rather than in the elegant bishop’s residence in the suburb of Olivos. He took public transportation and cooked his own meals.” On the night of his election as pope, he took the bus back to his hotel with the cardinals, rather than be driven in the papal car. Indeed, rather than live in the Papal Palace, Francis continues to live in the Vatican guest house. The new pope also opts to wear a simple iron crucifix in place of the gold ones worn by previous popes.
Furthermore, Pope Francis has shown that he is committed to social justice and to environmentalism and in his first Easter address, urged Christians and all humans to be “responsible guardians” of the Earth. Prior to his inauguration, he interceded with an Argentinian dictator to have captured priests released and likely saved their lives by doing so. In addition, Francis has shown himself to be open to dialogue and collaboration with other Christian sects and with other religions and he has prayed alongside Muslims and Jews. Many Muslims have expressed support of Francis and even attended his formal installation as Pope.
While Pope Francis has remained very traditional in many respects, he has also been very open and receptive to technology. Not only does he often use skype to communicate with the leaders of other churches, but he also maintains an active twitter account.
Finally, Pope Francis has urged Christians to be loving and respectful to homosexuals and indeed, my only real criticism of him at this point in his papacy is that he has remained very much opposed to gay marriage. He spoke strong words in opposition of an Argentinian law that would legalize homosexual marriage, though the law was eventually passed regardless of his views. Regardless of this fact, I believe we have many reasons to be hopeful and optimistic about the positive contributions and fruitful changes that Francis stands to bring to both the Church and the world in the course of his papacy.