As an Italian American Catholic with a degree from a Jesuit university, I can freely admit that I am pretty excited about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio being named the next Pontiff. Pope Francis I breaks a long list of barriers, and is likely to break several more.
First of all, we should clarify that as an Italian American from Argentina, he helps to show that Amerigo Vespucci was such an impactful explorer that they named not one, but two continents after him. Due to that honor, I can be an Italian American from Denver and Pope Francis can be an Italian American from Argentina. But enough with the geography lesson.
Secondly, we should also point out that my fellow Americans who are residents of the USA will probably find Pope Francis confronting us on how we handle poverty issues and will not be a progressive voice on issues such as abortion or gay rights. For us Yankees, Pope Francis will be a tough critic and one not likely to bend any time soon.
However, if we can look at our world with a broader lens than the issues that dominate our own headlines, I think we can see that in Pope Francis we have a pontiff with the potential to shake things up and be a global advocate for the poor.
As a Jesuit priest, Pope Francis has taken a vow of poverty and has shown his commitment to that vow, even as he rose in the ranks of the Buenos Aires Archdiocese. And while he cannot forego the papal residence for a modest apartment in Rome, there is much he can do on his own and within the church.
That may seem as something that only applies to Catholics, but we saw in John Paul II how a Catholic leader could influence far more than his own flock.
In fact, Pope Francis has the potential to influence some of the same kinds of changes that Pope John Paul II helped to bring about. While Americans may remember President Ronald Reagan as the man who helped bring down the USSR, residents of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia would tend to believe John Paul II had much more to do with it.
I realize that simply bringing attention to the plight of the poor doesn’t solve the problem of poverty. However, John Paul II taught the entire world to not underestimate the influence of a passionate papal advocate.
How Pope Francis uses his influence is the big question. But it certainly does not look like that the conclave elected a wallflower. It seems that Pope Francis intends to maintain his commitment to shining a light on the plight of the poor.
At the very least, the Americas have their first Pope and judging from first impressions, he will be a memorable one, but maybe not for the reasons that we expected from the first American Pope.
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About The Blogger
– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.