A meek, simple, modest man, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th  patriarch of the Roman Catholic Church today to succeed Pope Benedict XVI as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.  Bergoglio, a Jesuit,  fittingly chose the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century friar-preacher who founded the Franciscan Order of priests and was known for his meekness, simplicity, and modesty and is regarded as the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Pope Francis represents the first Jesuit pope, the first pontiff chosen from the Americas, and the first from outside Europe in twelve hundred years

Along with his working class background and his penchant for rejecting pomp and ostentation, (he refused to live in the cardinal’s mansion in Buenos Aires and took a public bus to work every day), Francis’ first words to the massive, cheering crowd in St. Peter’s Square set the tone for his papacy. “Brothers and sisters, good evening,” he began almost shyly, ”You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the earth. Thank you for the welcome.” 

It remains to be seen whether the new, 76 year old pope will be able to fulfill what is expected of him, to successfully accomplish the monumental task of repairing the bureaucratic flaws in the Curia, to restore the faith of the faithful after decades of scandals, to reform and to re-invigorate the Church, to bring the Roman Catholic religion into the 21st century without abandoning the fundamental principles on which it was founded. 

A traditionalist made cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001, Francis is a traditionalist with a liberal twist: He adamantly opposes abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriages but he has also inveighed against “unjust economic structures that give rise to great inequalities” that violate basic human rights and believes that social debt is “immoral, unjust and illegitimate.”    

Regardless of anyone’s religious affiliation–if any–all rational people would be advised to wish Francis good fortune since what he does or does not accomplish as pope will affect everyone on the planet in one way or another.  Considering his scholarly credentials, his evident nature as a good, caring man, his wild popularity in Buenos Aires, and his dedication to St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis of Argentina should do just fine and survive the inevitable attacks from Catholic-bashers.