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New Pope encouraged to stay true to Jesuit spirit

March 15, 2013

As white smoke wafted up from the Vatican on Wednesday, the announcement millions had been waiting for was relayed to those attending midday Mass in Guadalajara’s Metropolitan Cathedral, followed by 10 minutes of bell ringing.

Jorge Bergoglio, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires who will be known as Pope Francis, is not only the first Latin American to head the Catholic Church, he is also the first Jesuit to do so.

The Jesuit religious order is characterized by its members willingness to live in humble conditions, as well as a dedication to educational, cultural and missionary pursuits.

As archbishop, Bergoglio eschewed creature comforts, preferring to live in a modest Buenos Aires apartment and taking the bus or subway to work.

His main challenge as pope will be to “restore credibility” to the Catholic Church, according to Juan Luis Orozco Hernandez, the rector of Guadalajara’s Jesuit ITESO university.

As a Latin American accustomed to a simple life and the Jesuit tradition, Orozco belives Francis has the right profile to make gradual changes within the Church and begin “a dialogue between north and south, rich and poor, those who create inequality and impose injustice those who suffer from them.”

“We hope that he does not lose his Jesuit spirit to the temptations that can occur everywhere, even in the Church and the Vatican,” Orozco said, adding that he expects the new Pope to maintain a greater commitment to the poor and disadvantaged, and a determination to fight for justice and above all to serve God.

Orozco also called on the new Pope to make the Church less clerical, encouraging its followers to focus on the values of love, mercy and justice. Alluding to the child abuse scandals that have tainted the reputation of the Church, he added that Francis must confront the errors of the past, “without covering them up.”

Writing in Guadalajara daily El Informador Thursday, columnist Diego Petersen warned more forward-thinking Catholics not to read too much into the fact that Pope Francis is a Jesuit.  “Not all Jesuits are liberals,” he said.  “Jorge Mario Bergoglio, we could say is the opposite: he is a profoundly conservative man, and at the time of the (Argentine) dictatorship, acted as a brake against the progressive tendencies of the time.”

Nonetheless, Petersen said the pope’s Jesuit/conservative background could work in his favor, especially when it comes to moving the powerful, elitist Vatican bureaucracy into the modern age.

Although Petersen, and others, believe the election of Pope Francis will herald an era of greater papal humility and more focused attention on the poor and disadvantaged, no one really believes the key doctrines of the Catholic Church will change.  Most Catholic experts say it is unrealistic to expect that during his papacy Francis will endorse the ordination of women, or permit priests to marry. Equally, the former bishop of Buenos Aires will preside over a church that will maintain its stance against contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage.

That much was clear well before his election, when Bergoglio fell out with the Argentine government over their proposals to legalize same-sex marriage.

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