We have a new pope, which might prompt some Protestants to utter, “Who cares?” After all, we bid arrivederci to Rome centuries ago. Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and a host of other denominations don’t go in for praying to the Virgin Mary, eschewing contraception or believing that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper mystically morph into divine elements.
Time will tell if Pope Francis I, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, will be a successful pontiff. But the early signs are that he will send the papacy on a positive trajectory, setting an example for Christians of all spots and stripes.
First, we can learn HUMILITY from the new pope. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio maintained a low profile, riding the bus instead of a limo, cooking his own meals and living in a modestly-furnished apartment instead of the episcopal mansion in which he was entitled to reside. He kept close to his flock, who simply called him “Father Jorge.” The Argentinian newspaper, La Nacion, revealed that Bergoglio would wear a black overcoat when he traveled to Rome, preferring not to show off the eye-catching garb of a Catholic cardinal. “Also, when he was declared a cardinal,” the paper noted, “he decided not to buy new clothing. Instead, he ordered the clothing of the previous cardinal be mended to fit him.” He also returned to the hotel he was residing in during the conclave to pick up his luggage and pay the bill out of his own pocket.
Second, the pope’s PRAYER LIFE should inspire us. When he appeared on the Vatican balcony for the first time, dressed in the white cassock of the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, he humbly asked for prayer. “Let’s pray always for each other. Let’s pray for the whole world. May there be a great brotherhood,” Pope Francis said in Italian. In an unprecedented move, he bowed his head so people could silently pray for him before he blessed the crowds. On Thursday morning after he was elected to the Holy See, Pope Francis quietly slipped through the side entrance of the St. Mary Major basilica to pray and left about 30 minutes later.
Third, Pope Francis sets an example of COMPASSIONATE SERVANTHOOD. By adopting the name of St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscan order of monks who live in poverty and simplicity, the pope may be signaling where his ministry will focus. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he followed the footwashing example of Jesus. In 2001, at a hospice in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio kissed and washed the feet of 12 people with AIDS. He has also washed the feet of drug addicts. The pope has a record of defending exploited children, lifting up the poor and being a voice for the disenfranchised. In September 2012, Bergoglio reprimanded priests who refused to baptize children born out of wedlock, saying that they were driving “God’s people away from salvation.”
The new pope is not perfect. He is flesh and blood like the rest of us and will make mistakes. Already his doctrinal views have rubbed some the wrong way. But as a renowned spiritual leader who has consistently led a humble life and showed charity to the “least and lost,” Pope Francis I may deserve a second look by us Protestants.