New Pope Sheds Pomp In Favor Of Championing The Poor
Perspective, Investor's Business Daily, March 27, 2013
Like his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, the new pontiff has long championed the poor and the downtrodden.
With Easter Week upon us, come Holy Thursday this "unpredictable pope" will celebrate Mass at a juvenile prison, washing the feet of sinners. In shedding the ceremonial pomp of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is unafraid to commune with common people.
Nor is Pope Francis I timorous about speaking truth to power — whether tangling with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner or facing down Argentina's prior military junta.
He will no doubt exert the full weight of his moral authority against the sexual predators roiling parishes in the U.S., Ireland and Mexico. (Two top papal contenders, Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean O'Malley of Boston, may have been passed over because they didn't deal quickly enough with abusive priests.) One is reminded of Leonardo da Vinci's dictum: "He who does not punish evil commands it to be done."
A compassionate theological conservative with a keen Jesuitical mind, Francis I has challenged world leaders to "act as the custodians of creation" — echoing the humanism and problem-solving pragmatism of a classical heritage.
Indeed, this son of Italian immigrants represents the ideal ecclesiastical reformer, for he is the heir to the ancient tradition underpinning the papacy.
Lest we forget, Rome's original pontifex maximus was its first emperor, Caesar Augustus — not the fisherman Simon Peter.
In addition to becoming pater patriae (father of his country) — and encouraging what historian Michael Grant refers to as "a new patriotic feeling for Italy" — Augustus assumed the title of head of the Roman state religion in 12 B.C.
By reaching out to Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, scant hours after his election, Pope Francis I echoed the philo-Semitism of Augustus. Cultural critic Robert Hughes quotes antiquity's Jewish sources in detailing how the emperor "showed such reverence for our traditions that he and almost all his family enriched the Temple with expensive dedications."
It was the Emperor Constantine, however, who later transformed an embryonic Christian cult into the Roman Empire's preferred religion, allowing it to grow and prosper into the world's most enduring institution.
Indeed, he had the facade of the Basilica Constantiniana (or San Giovanni in Laterano), which is actually the first great Christian church in the Eternal City, inscribed with words that heralded a new order: "Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput." (The mother and head of all churches of the city and of the world).
Evincing a spirit of ecumenical comity, the new pontiff recently welcomed a number of religious leaders to the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.
Among the luminaries were figures from varying Protestant denominations; Bartholomew I, the spiritual head of Orthodox Christianity; and key Jewish and Muslim clerics.
Also in attendance were representatives of the Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Jainist traditions.
In meeting the challenges of a global faith in the 21st century, Pope Francis I will be strengthened by the ancient ethos that gave rise to the universality of the Pax Romana and the Roman Catholic Church.
Rosario A. Iaconis is chairman of the Italic Institute of America.