Happy Birthday Pope Francis!
Eighty years ago, on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Little could his working class Italian immigrant parents, Mario and Regina, have imagined that their infant son would grow up to be the 265th Successor of Saint Peter and first pope from the New World, taking the name “Francis.”
When the Conclave of 2013 began, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was not well known to the world, but when he later stepped out as Pope Francis onto the balcony overlooking Saint Peter’s Square, from that moment until now, he has set a vibrant tone. He began his papal ministry by bowing down and asking for our prayers as we together make our pilgrim journey, “a journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us.”
In the days and weeks following his election, in what has become a hallmark of his pontificate, the Holy Father would encourage us in charity to go out, invite, welcome, embrace and, with merciful love care for others, particularly the marginalized, as our sisters and brothers. This theme is voiced in one fashion or another in his encyclicals Lumen Fidei and Laudato Si’, his apostolic exhortations Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia, and also his letter Misericordiae Vultus proclaiming the Jubilee of Mercy.
This appeal of the Holy Father to communion, love and mercy, is the perennial message of the Gospel, the ever-ancient yet ever-new Good News of the love of Jesus Christ. Yet, in this providential time, it seems that more people – especially those who have been disaffected with the Church – have been more open to receiving that message and with it, God’s mercy and grace. This we could say is the Holy Spirit at work as the principal agent of evangelization.
In 1958, Jorge Bergoglio entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest on December 13, 1969, during a time when the Second Vatican Council was first being implemented. Pope John Paul II appointed him a bishop in 1992 and at that time he chose as his episcopal motto, miserando atque eligendo, which recalls how Jesus looked upon Matthew the sinner and tax collector with merciful love and chose him.
As extensively discussed in Misericordiae Vultus, mercy and the overwhelming blessing of God’s love as we journey through life have certainly been at the center of Pope Francis’ pastoral ministry. Also, with the choice of his papal name after Saint Francis of Assisi, I think the Holy Father said that as disciples of Jesus who walk with him in our daily lives, we live the Gospel even when it is difficult.
Cheers of affection and love for our Holy Father Pope Francis have been heard at audiences in Rome and at World Youth Day gatherings, during his visit to the Church of Washington and his journeys to other places to the ends of the earth, on magazine covers and in the hearts of women, men and children everywhere. His invitation to a fresh way of living the Gospel has been a bright beacon of hope in our world. On this special birthday, let us offer thanks to God for this pastor of souls. Viva il Papa!