Francis signals Catholicism's turn into an evangelical future

The swift election of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio as bishop of Rome is replete with good news -and not a little irony. To reverse the postmodern batting order, let's begin with the good news, writes George Weigel in Ethics and Public Policy Centre.

A true man of God. The wheelchair-bound beggar at the corner of Via della Conciliazione and Via dell'Erba this morning had a keen insight into his new bishop: "Sono molto contento; e una profeta" ("I'm very happy; he's a prophet").

That was certainly the overwhelming impression I took away from the hour I spent with the archbishop of Buenos Aires and future pope last May -- here was a genuine man of God, who lives "out" from the richness and depth of his interior life; a bishop who approaches his responsibilities as a churchman and his decisions as the leader of a complex organization from a Gospel-centered perspective, in a spirit of discernment and prayer.

The intensity with which Cardinal Bergoglio asked me to pray for him, at the end of an hour of wide-ranging conversation about a broad range of local and global Catholic issues, was mirrored last night in his unprecedented request to the vast crowd spilling out of St Peter's Square and down toward the Tiber to pray for him before he blessed them. Gregory the Great, in the sixth century, was the first bishop of Rome to adopt the title Servus servorum Dei (Servant of the Servants of God).

That ancient description of the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church will be embodied in a particularly winsome way in Pope Francis, who named himself for the Poverello of Assisi, the most popular saint in history.

A pope for the New Evangelisation. The election of Pope Francis completes the Church's turn from the Counter-Reformation Catholicism that brought the Gospel to America -- and eventually produced Catholicism's first American pope -- to the Evangelical Catholicism that must replant the Gospel in those parts of the world that have grown spiritually bored, while planting it afresh in new fields of mission around the globe.

In our May 2012 conversation, the man who would become pope discussed at some length the importance of the Latin American bishops' 2007 "Aparecida Document," the fruit of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The essential message of that revolutionary statement (in which there was not the least bit of whining about Protestant "sheep-stealing" but rather a clear acknowledgment of Catholicism's own evangelical deficiencies in Latin America) can be gleaned from this brief passage, which I adopted as one of the epigrams for my book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church.

 FULL STORY The first American pope: Catholicism's turn into an evangelical future (EPPC)

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