03/14/2013, 00.00
ASIA - VATICAN
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Fr Samir: Pope Francis, a simple but steadfast man who knows where he is going

by Samir Khalil Samir
For the Jesuit priest and great Islam expert, starting with his first address Pope Bergoglio has shown that he is faithful to the Gospel and prayer. The pope did not mention the Company of Jesus because his membership is a mere fact that is part of the Church's embrace. Being South American will help him in dealing with the poor and marginalised peoples of the world, especially in Asia and Africa.

Rome (AsiaNews) - "A man loved by people, and the people . . . . Francis is a pope who wants to be honest with the Gospel and the Christian faith. . . . He prays with the faithful in the square for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the new pope. Francis let us rediscover that we can bless the pope. . . . A man who speaks about South America, a developing world, can be a useful approach on social and political issues. Pope Francis was for many years ordinary for Eastern Churches and will be sensitive to their problems. . . . These features will allow the pope to speak to the entire universal Church," said Fr Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest and Islam expert, as he spoke to AsiaNews. For him, the new pope is a simple person, as evinced by the choice of the name Francis, a signal that he is close to the poor, and the decision not to mention his membership in the Company of Jesus, a fact that is embraced in the family of the universal Church. For Fr Samir, Francis will follow the path of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. It is not important to please others. What matters is following one's path and the Church needs this.

Here are Fr Samir Khalil Samir's thoughts. 

Why a pope from the Americas

It is good thing that a South American was elected as pope. In fact, most Catholics are on this continent. Leaving Europe for the first time will do the Church good.

For Asia, the only real choice was Card Luis Antonio Tagle, a bishop held in high esteem as a pastor and theologian, but perhaps still too young. Since he is under 60, his pontificate would probably have been long.

The Church is expanding in Asia and Africa. Christianity is developing fast but local Churches need time for this. A man who speaks from South America, a developing world, can be a useful approach on social and political issues.

For many years, Pope Francis was ordinary for Eastern Churches and will be sensitive to their problems. Eastern Churches have nearly as many members in the Americas as in their countries of origin. These features will allow the pope to speak to the entire universal Church.

A "simple" servant of the Church

When he came out on the balcony overlooking St Peter's Square, I was struck by his simplicity but also his embarrassment. The new pope perhaps does not have the ease of communication that his predecessors had, especially John Paul II, but he is a deeply spiritual person.

The first thing he asked the crowd of faithful was to pray to the Holy Spirit to bless the pope. After that, he asked them to pray for the pope emeritus. This suggests a simple, people person.

For the first time in history, a Jesuit was chosen. However, he did not mention it. He did not choose the name Ignatius. For him, being a Jesuit is a personal choice, not a title of glory.

A love for people, opposition to liberation theology

When the cardinal was archbishop of Buenos Aires, people loved him a lot because he was always close to the faithful. Choosing the name Francis is a sign that Pope Bergoglio wants to be close to the simple people and the poor, like the saint of Assisi.

During years of theological divisions in South America, he opposed liberation theology and for this reason, he is still not liked in some quarters. Yet, he was close to the poorest people. They say he used to take the bus, like everybody else. His is not a theoretician; instead, he lives his faith through his deeds.

For those who know him, he is a man who knows where he is going. In what he does, this Francis is following the path of Benedict XVI. It is not important to please others. What matters is following one's path and the Church needs this. We know what we are. We do not seek to please or displease others. We seek the Gospel. This new pope is a man who wants to be honest with the Gospel and the Christian faith.

Steadfast against divisions

The pope was a provincial for the province of Argentina at a time of protests. The province was torn by a struggle pitting traditionalists against progressives. He was on neither side. This suggests steadfastness, simplicity and closeness to the people.

Yesterday, he addressed his diocese, the people of Rome. I think he will address the whole Church in the future, but yesterday it was time for celebrating in the family.

Hundreds of thousands of people stood before him. He told them: Let us pray together. With this act, he showed that he needed the prayers of the faithful to be blessed by God. He let us rediscover that we can bless the pope.

In 2005, during the conclave that followed the death of John Paul II, his name came in second after that of Card Ratzinger. This shows that Card Bergoglio was already highly regarded by his fellow cardinals.

His age explains his election. Since he is neither young, nor old, his pontificate will be neither short, nor long, but will allow for Church reform.

For many, he is steadfast. Let us hope that he will use his simplicity and steadfastness against scandalous and unacceptable aspects like paedophilia and successfully set a new path to follow, keeping close to the one laid down by the pope emeritus.

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