Editorial: Opportunity and challenge for Pope Francis
For Catholics, the days before Easter are a time of spiritual renewal. In choosing the name Francis in his first act as pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina sent the world a hopeful message that he will be a man of action and compassion as he leads a troubled church.
For Catholics, for other Christians, for people of other faiths and for nonbelievers, this man of firsts represents an opportunity for a shaky pillar of Western civilization to influence the world for good. His namesake, Francis of Assisi, said more than 800 years ago that he heeded God's call to "rebuild my church." We wish Bergoglio the strength and courage and wisdom to do so as well.
At 76, he seems to possess the political skills and life experiences to do that. He has spoken forcefully to the Argentinian government and has been around the Vatican long enough to appreciate how bureaucratic infighting has weakened the financial and oversight role of the church.
He brings other firsts in addition to his name. He is the first pope from the Society of Jesus. Its actions and sense of mission never failed to annoy the bureaucrats in Rome. And he is the first pope from Latin America, where 46 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live.
In his first spiritual invocation, he asked for a moment of silence and recited the simplest of prayers. He seems less a prince of the church than a servant of it. Unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Bergoglio seems ready to step firmly and joyfully into the future.
Francis of Assisi was the patron saint of merchants, as well as those who loved the Earth and its creatures. Should Bergoglio follow that path, he could offer the world a message about the balance that is necessary between the drive of capitalism and the need to protect the poor and weakest -- and about conserving and celebrating nature.
Such leadership would help the church regain credibility and moral suasion in the world -- and provide it with a stronger platform to speak about social injustice, the environment and a fairer distribution of world resources.
It is an opportunity the world can pray, or at least hope, will not be lost.