Pope Impact

How the pope might influence you and the rest of the world

by Madison Garner

On a Wednesday in March, a man name Jorge Bergoglio captured the attention of the world. Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and raised by a railroad worker and a homemaker. Called simple and humble by many, he stood out when he was elected the new pope of the Catholic Church. Taking the name Francis, this new pope’s arrival raises many questions about what his influence will be on the Catholic Church and the rest of the world.

What Impact Will The Pope Have On College Students?

Catholic students often want to identify themselves by their faith, but some hesitate because of the negative impact that issues, such as sex scandals, can have on the image of Catholicism. There may be a renewed sense of pride in being Catholic because of the new leader who embodies great ideals, said Anastasia Wendlinder, assistant professor of religious studies and co-director of the graduate program at Gonzaga University.

One ideal Pope Francis considers important includes focusing on human dignity, particularly in regards to the poor.

“Coming from Argentina and working with the poor, he sees the effect of American consumer patterns,” said Michael Maher, director of Gonzaga’s Catholic studies program and associate professor of history. “I think he will focus on the need to be serious. There’s a lot to do in the world. For people who have the time, energy, and resources to do something, there will be a call to do it.”

College students will be challenged about the role they play in the consumer culture, and the effects their actions have on others, Maher said.

The pope has potential to initiate change, which students should be aware of.

“Whitworth’s students are mainly protestants, but the institution is more broadly Christian and the Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the U.S.,” said Lindy Scott, Whitworth professor of modern languages and director of Whitworth’s Costa Rica Center. “So whatever religiosity a student might have, he or she should be aware of the change going on in the Catholic Church.”

Pope Francis is already changing how the position of the pope is viewed.

“From the first moment he was introduced to the world he made it clear we are doing things differently now,” Wendlinder said. “Up to this point, he has reversed the way we have to expect the pope to act.”

What is the Significance of the Pope’s Name?

When a person becomes pope, they choose a new name. There’s always significance to the name chosen, Maher said.

The pope chose his name after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint concerned with the poor and who focused on living a poor lifestyle, Maher said.

Choosing the name of a saint is a symbolic way to show the pope’s desire to follow their footsteps.

“If the pope embodies St. Francis, he will be willing to listen to the heart of the people and make choices for the greater good where God is speaking,” Windlinder said.

St. Francis also focused on evangelism.

“Francis saw himself as building up the church,” Maher said.

With the Catholic Church losing members around the world, including Latin America, the focus on evangelism could help the church grow.

What is the significance of the pope’s culture?

The heritage of the pope plays a strong role in the pope’s leading the Catholic Church, Maher said.

The pope is both Italian and Argentinean, which is common in Buenos Aires. Half of the individuals in Buenos Aires are Italian-Argentinean, Scott said.

The pope’s heritage is a break from tradition, but he is still traditional enough to appease conservatives, Scott said.

Serving as bishop in Argentina, the pope is very close to the poor, Maher said. The pope’s personal background allows him to represent the diversity of the church and the poor.

“With the disparity of wealth, socio-economic statuses, and distribution of goods, having a pope come from a developing country is very important,” Wendlinder said. “His culture is important not so much that he is Latin American but that he represents this portion of the church and hopefully will represent it well.”

Two-thirds of Roman Catholics live in developing countries, and many of them live in poverty, Wendlinder said.

“You want to have a leader that can speak to that and to the care of people,” Wendlinder said. “People want a person to speak for us and as one of us.”

The pope has been very close to the poor and is sensitive to the poor, Maher said. The pope has chosen to take public transportation instead of a popemobile, refused to live in the palace, and is often with common people — those who are not religious leaders.

The pope’s culture may play a role in Latin America’s politics. In the past, the Catholic Church’s position on many issues influenced the laws of Latin American countries.

“The Catholic Church has been the dominant religious system and has great power in many countries, but has lost some strength in the political world,” Scott said. “I think the selection of the pope from Argentina will temporarily give the church more strength in Latin America.”

The Catholic Church is a global church, something the pope must recognize, Wendlinder said.

“Awareness of cultural integration and pluralism is so profoundly important that any pope from here on out has to respect it,” Wendlinder said. “Looking back to the pope’s own role model, St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th Century, he went at the peril of his own life to talk to the Muslim leader the sultan of Egypt, and in that meeting built bridges where there were none, and he did it by listening to other religions and cultures. Our new Pope Francis, and any pope from this time forward has to deal with issues related to a global church in a diverse, pluralistic, multicultural world.”

What’s the importance of him being the first Jesuit pope?

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to become pope. At the time Jesuits were established in 1540, according to history.com, the Catholic Church was experiencing many problems.

Part of the problem was the wrong people were in positions of power in the Catholic Church, Maher said.

Jesuits decided they should not become bishops and would take an oath saying if they heard of a Jesuit wanting to be a bishop, they would report them. Today, Jesuits are slowly becoming bishops. Worldwide, there are few Jesuit bishops (compared to non-Jesuit bishops).

Most Jesuits, including the pope, are strong proponents of natural law, Maher said. Natural law is examining right and wrong using natural reason. That position may play a role in decisions the pope makes in the future.

When the pope looks at helping the poor, for example, he will not only reference scripture, but also use natural law to justify his actions toward the poor, Maher said.

Contact Madison Garner at mgarner16@my.whitworth.edu

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