As a native Argentinean Catholic, it is difficult to describe my euphoria upon learning that our new pope is from Argentina. As a Jesuit-educated Catholic, I was doubly excited! On the day of the announcement, the junior high students in my classroom eagerly awaited the new pope’s arrival on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. I smiled at their enthusiasm and glanced hopefully at the poll asking students who our new pope would be, taken less than an hour earlier when white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel. The majority of my students had voted for Europe or Africa. The lone vote under South America was my own, reflecting my silent prayer for a pope from Latin America, where the majority of the world’s Catholics live.
A cardinal appeared on the balcony. The classroom erupted in applause. The students jumped up and down and hugged one another as if the United States had just won the World Cup. (Can you tell I’m Argentinean?) Amidst their cheers, we didn’t hear one word the cardinal said. Before I could ask them to listen, the cardinal departed from the balcony.
“That’s it?” they asked me as their cheers ceased.
I laughed and replied, “No, wait a min–.”
Before I could finish my words, students who had been watching from other classrooms rushed in. “Ms. Del Bueno! He’s Argentinean! The pope is Argentinean!”
I jumped up in excitement — my prayer had been answered! “What’s his name?” I asked a student who had just walked in.
“Jorge … something. It sounds Italian,” she replied.
Archbishop Bergoglio, I thought.
My phone went wild. “He’s Argentinean and a Jesuit!” I was suddenly aware that people were going to expect me to know a lot about our pope. All I knew at that point was that he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, a Jesuit, and he grew up a few minutes from my family’s home in Buenos Aires.
I did my homework and found myself hopeful. The fact that he took on the name of il poverello (the poor man) of Assisi, St. Francis, filled me with joy. His first words to Rome showed him to be a humble man who is aware of his need for our prayers. I was struck by the various anecdotes I heard and read about his commitment to living simply. I chuckled at his Argentine antics — his direct manner of speaking; his enjoyment of the Argentine drink mate; his admiration of the same soccer team (San Lorenzo) which my recently deceased grandfather Salvador loved for more than 80 years; and the fact that after his election he phoned his diariero, the Buenos Aires newspaper seller with whom he would converse while he bought his morning paper. “Sounds like something my grandfather would have done,” I thought. I felt home.
Above all, I was inspired by Pope Francis calling us to walk with Christ crucified; his compassion for those in need; his reminder that ours is a Church of the poor; his focus on the need to engage in dialogue; and his message that God never grows tired of forgiving us.
Did he do enough?
At the same time, I was being asked difficult questions about him. I began to see the left-right Catholic divide as debates began over liberation theology and Pope Francis’ opinions of it. Here’s the thing: At the core of liberation theology lies the example of Jesus Christ and his love for those on the margins in a particular time in history. In A Theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Dominican priest from Perú and liberation theologian, speaks of it as a reflection on one’s pastoral activities, meaning that, first, one actively attempts to live Christ’s message, and then, one reflects on it and shares it. We can find God in the particular instances of our everyday life — especially interactions with the poor, for whom God has a special love. I do not believe Pope Francis is against this aspect of liberation theology. I think clarity regarding the pope’s possible concerns with liberation theology will come in the future, specifically regarding some connections made between liberation theology and Marxism. For now, liberation theology can teach us valuable things about bringing God’s Kingdom to earth, and we are mistaken if we condemn it instead of engaging in dialogue.
In addition, questions are asked about Pope Francis’ action during the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s when he was Jesuit provincial. I have researched this horrible time in my native country both in the past, and since Pope Francis’ election, and personally do not believe he supported the military junta; rather, I believe he did what was within his power to help those persecuted by the military.
The question of “whether or not he did enough” is important because it is a question all Christians should ask ourselves. We must ask ourselves whether we do enough to love as Jesus loved daily. The pope’s example thus far has called me to reflect on my own living of the Gospel, and I hope it will do the same for all Catholics in the world — especially young adults — because the reality is this: if the pope is looking to make the Church more just and peaceful, he cannot do it alone. Change will not come from just one man. God needs each one of us to bring about the Kingdom. It will take more than two to tango with our new Argentine Pope Francis. He needs all of us to live out Christ’s loving example in our own lives. All we have to do is jump in, be willing to learn, and start moving!