In March, the Vatican elected a new pontiff, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis. Born to Italian parents in Buenos Aires where he was Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus and the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere.
The appointment of an Argentinean Pope reflects the changing demographics of the Catholic Church. In the previous century, the growing Catholic population in Latin America and the Caribbean surpassed that of Europe. A 2010 report by the Pew Research Center revealed that only 24 percent of Catholics worldwide are European while 39 percent are Latin Americanor Caribbean.
Pope Francis’ position on many issues matches his unusual papal training received in the Jesuit order in Argentina. Known in his home nation for his charity work and encouragement of interfaith dialog, he has brought the same practices to the papal throne. He resides in the Vatican guest houses rather than the elaborate chambers traditionally occupied by the Pope, and on Holy Thursday he chose to wash the feet of young prison inmates of various religions to represent the 12 apostles rather than choosing Catholic priests as is typically the custom.
His new position for the church is reflected in his words as well. The sermons he has given contain messages of charity and acceptance among religions: “Throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the poor, the hungry,” he said about the modern culture of waste, and in regards to other religions and even atheists, he preached that doing good is what’s most important in life.
His statements have caused some controversy among Catholics but earned him widespread praise from usual church critics.