For the first time in church history, a sitting pope resigned in 2013 setting the stage for another first that resonated with the University of Scranton.
“When the white smoke appeared and everybody was on edge, one of the students announced ‘it’s a Jesuit’.”
The private Catholic and Jesuit University took special pride that behind the symbolic white smoke at the Vatican indicating a new pope was elected, it marked the first time a Jesuit was chosen to lead the church. But University of Scranton Associate Professor of Theology Patrick Clark says the campus still had one big question — who was this man?
“Nobody of us had heard of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio at that point very much anyway.”
Dr. Clark says the first clue about Cardinal Bergoglio came from the name ‘Francis’ — which the priest of more than four decades selected to use as pope.
“He chose the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi who was a champion of the poor, who was also a reformer who worked for and with the church and who was also somebody very close to nature.”
Dr. Clark says Pope Francis soon revealed what topics would shape his leadership.
“Shortly after, he started annunciating the main themes of his papacy which were mercy, joy and encounter. He’s been sort of hitting these notes throughout his papacy.”
Dr. Clark has observed how the 78-year-old pope has broken protocol with many of his predecessors to remain true to his agenda.
“The pope has said early on that the church should be out among the people. It should go out of itself. When it keeps to itself it becomes sick. It becomes self-referential.”
During his papacy, Pope Francis has weighed-in on such concerns as sex abuse, human trafficking and terrorism.
“He takes evil very seriously. I think he sees a lot of these developments in the world today through a spiritual lens and so the solution has to have some sort of spiritual element for him.”
In his two and a half years as pontiff, Pope Francis has proven immensely popular. He has millions of Twitter followers gaining a deep interest from more than just his spiritual flock.
“The non-Catholic or non-Christian world sees the pope as a constant presence who is trying to uphold perennial values, human rights, a belief system and a world view that is consistent but also is able to adapt to and speak to the developments around the world.”
For his first visit to the United States, Pope Francis chose to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
“The pope is coming to support it not as an expert, not as even sort of an honorary guest presider but as a father.”
Dr. Clark is interested in how the pope will experience America and vice versa.
“I don’t think he’s going to go easy on America when he comes here.”
He believes Pope Francis will take aim on what he considers a throwaway culture in a capitalist society overwhelmed by its affluence and its access to information.
“Perhaps if he’s able to succeed with connecting to people on a personal level,
“We’ll reassess in America the things that keep us from having that sort of authentic personal encounter that he’s been advocating for so long.”