Elected on March 13, Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is the first pope from the Americas and the first Jesuit pope.
Rev. John Swope, SJ, president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and a member of the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—himself, says that Bergoglio’s personal qualities and Jesuit training will bring a breath of fresh air to the Catholic Church.
“For Pope Francis, this is really probably a very awesome thing to happen,” said Swope, noting that he was using the word “awesome to mean huge and onerous. “He’s probably excited and very fearful and approaching it with a great deal of humility.”
Swope said that the newly-elected pope’s wearing a simple white Cossack and carrying his own luggage “unbelievable.”
“I like the way he has decided not to stand on ceremony,” he said. “He has blown right through protocols that were probably explained very clearly to him.”
Swope noted that Bergoglio did something similar soon after he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires about 15 years ago:
“He just scrapped his schedule for a few days and went to care for a priest who was sick,” he said. “I think for all of us, it’s really calling on us to examine our personal relationships. Are we available to people, to reach out to people personally and get to know them, or are we just living a bunch of roles?”
Speaking as a Jesuit, Swope didn’t necessarily find the new pope’s lack of pomp and ceremony surprising.
“Generally, we try to shy away from these roles [like the papacy],” he said. “It’s kind of the way we are. We don’t aspire to ecclesiastical roles because we do all these other things.”
Those things are teaching and missionary work. The Jesuits are responsible for the education of 2.6 million students worldwide, Swope said, and have “broad-ranging ministries throughout the world in just about every country.”
“It’s a pretty far-flung enterprise,” he said.
In Baltimore, for example, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School has students from all over the city. Each student’s family pays a small annual tuition contribution; the rest of the cost is covered by the student’s earnings in his corporate internship—up to $7,000 a year—and by an annual contribution of $7,500 from a “sponsorship benefactor.”
It can’t be easy to find a large amount of people willing to contribute $7,500 a year—or $30,000 for all four years—for students of modest means.
But Swope says Jesuits have been noted for “being men able to gather great people together toward a common purpose and mission.”
“There’s sort of a reputation for being good managers and leaders and administrators,” he said.
One tool essential to leadership and management, Swope said, is a “very powerful way of making decisions” developed in part by founder Ignatius of Loyola, named a saint in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis’s use of this method may rock the boat at the Vatican, he added.
“He’s going to be someone who makes decisions not based on the status quo, but to help lead the church to serve the glory of God and make life better for men and women everywhere,” he said. “Things are going to be changing in how the Vatican does business.”
One change, Swope says, will likely be less secrecy and more transparency.
Another facet to Pope Francis is his closeness to and strong advocacy for the poor, Swope said. In one of his first press conferences as pope, Francis was quoted as saying, “How I would like a poor Church, and for the poor.” He chose the name Francis after a fellow cardinal, advised him to not forget the poor.
Swope called Francis’s appeals for the poor “a perfectly legitimate approach to improving the lives of all men and women.” Rather than approaching this advocacy academically, with rock-solid arguments, Swope said he expected Francis to make “intensely personal” appeals.
“It’s a very, very personal appeal to politicians to reform the way they govern, the way they write laws. When he visits the U.S., he’s going to make a point of this,” Swope said.
Swope noted that there has been a lot of buzz around Cristo Rey with the news of a Jesuit pope. He said that hearing Pope Francis speak for the poor “ratifies” the mission of Cristo Rey.
“Here we are in Baltimore City, trying to make the statement that the young men and women of Baltimore have great potential,” he said. “We want our graduates to leave, go to college, and then, as if they were shot out of a cannon, go on and lead productive lives and become fantastic citizens.”
by Erik Zygmont