The selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 76-year-old Argentine cardinal from Buenos Aires, as the 266th pope ushers in a new era for the Roman Catholic Church. The new pope will go by the papal name Francis I. For reaction to the selection, NJ Today Managing Editor spoke with Monsignor William Benwell, Vicar General of the Diocese of Metuchen.
Upon hearing the announcement of the new pope, Benwell said he felt excitement for the church.
“We Christians are in the season of Lent where we’re preparing for Easter which is a time of celebrating resurrection, life, rebirth and this I think is something of a rebirth for the church, a real moment of newness.,” said Benwell. “We have not only a pope from a country that has ever been represented in the papacy before but he chose a name that has never been chosen before.”
Benwell said he was particularly struck by the pope’s choice of name — Francis. “It reminds me of two saints — St. Francis of Assisi [and] St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit saint, both of whom were revered for their humility, their poverty, their simplicity.”
St. Francis Xavier, he added, was someone who sought to bring the faith to those who had never heard it, which is particularly poignant for the church in today’s world.
“We’re in an age where we’re not only trying to bring the faith to those who have never heard it but to those who have heard it and may have moved onto other things, who have lost the faith,” said Benwell, who was encouraged by what he heard today from Francis I.
“It sounds to me like he wants to be a man of the people, a priest of the people and a person who has particular care for those who are in physical and spiritual need.” The new pope, he said, reminds him of Pope John XXIII for bringing a common touch to the papacy.
“[Pope John] was a man people could relate to. They felt looking at him, knowing his background, hearing him speak that they were listening to or seeing someone who they could relate to, could understand them, cares about them, has been where they’ve been,” explained Benwell. “I think what [Francis I] brings is maybe an accessibility, encouraging people to come to the church, come back to the church because they’ll find in our new leader someone who understands them, appreciates what it means to be a human being, a human being with all the challenges that go with that.”