Who is Pope Francis, Anyway?

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On March 13th, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the 266th Pope of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, taking the name Francis I. Francis is a Pope of firsts: first Pope from the Western Hemisphere, first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, first Pope from the Jesuit Order, and the first to take the name of Francis.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936, Bergoglio majored in Chemistry in college and worked as a janitor and a nightclub bouncer before entering seminary school. He was ordained a priest in 1969 and over the next 30 years worked his way up to the position of Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In 2001, Pope John Paul II elevated him to Cardinal, and after John Paul’s death in 2005, Bergoglio was the runner up in the race to succeed him as Pope, removing himself from the ballot in order to pave the way for the election of Benedict XVI.

As a Bishop in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was known for his humility. He lived in a small, private apartment, cooked his own food, rode on public transportation, and spent much more time among the poor in the slums of Buenos Aires than he did in the splendid halls of Vatican City.

This humility has carried over with him to his Papacy. Francis opted to live in the Vatican guest house instead of the luxurious Papal Apartments, gave away seven million dollars to charity that were originally meant to be given as bonuses to Vatican employees, and chooses to dress in simple clothing instead of the lavish traditional Papal garments.

Along with his humility, Francis is  known for his emphasis on God’s mercy, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to interfaith dialogue. He maintained good relationships with communities of all faiths in Argentina, and Jewish and Muslim leaders around the world praised his ordination as Pope. His popularity is nearly universal, having been on the cover of Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, and The Advocate, and being voted #1 on Forbes’ list of world’s greatest leaders.

Since his ordination in 2013, Francis has been everything but a traditional Pope, particularly because of some actions he has taken that many Catholics  consider controversial. Pope Francis has stated that atheists and other nonbelievers still have the ability to be saved by Jesus, a stark contrasts to the Catholic policy on non-Christians that has stood for over a thousand years. He was the first Pope to baptize the baby of an unmarried couple and the first to wash the feet of non-Christian juvenile offenders.

Francis is a staunch critic of unbridled capitalism, consumerism, and irresponsible development. He has urged world leaders to prevent excessive monetary ambitions and has encouraged greater global economic equality with more government sponsored welfare aid and financial market regulation.

In his second Papal Encyclical, titled Laudato Si’, Francis criticized the lack of action by world governments to stop environmental degradation and global warming. In the encyclical, he called on all the people of earth to take “swift and unified global action” to stop the relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment. Because of his second encyclical and his views on income equality and government regulation in general, some American conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh, have called Francis a Marxist.

Pope Francis has also taken on an unorthodox role as a global diplomat. In late 2014, he mediated the secret talks between the Obama administration and Cuban President Raoul Castro which resulted in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in over 50 years. Earlier this year, Francis led the way for the Vatican to officially recognize the State of Palestine and invited President Mahmoud Abbas to Vatican City.

Western media has generally portrayed him as a liberal and a progressive who aims to completely revolutionize the Catholic Church. Francis, however, has maintained traditional Catholic views on many hot button topics including abortion, euthanasia, contraception, homosexuality, and the role of women in the Church.

Francis made his first visit to the United States last September, becoming the first Pope to address a joint session of Congress. He declined an invitation to a Congressional Luncheon after his address, instead choosing to have lunch at a homeless shelter in south D.C.

On September 24th, former Speaker of the House John Boehner, a devout Catholic and former altar boy, met privately with the Pope. Pictures taken show him teary-eyed and sweaty as he stands next to his eminence. He described the experience as the greatest moment of his life. The next day, John Boehner announced his retirement.