The world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics rejoiced Wednesday in the rapid choice of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as Pope Francis I. The 115 cardinals were only into their second day of deliberations when the choice was made, to the delight of the crowds in Rome as well as those waiting around the globe.
The choice of Cardinal Bergoglio, 76, as successor to Benedict XVI turned on several criteria. First, it is apparent that there are serious administrative problems in the governing curia in Rome. The new pope has had considerable curia experience that should aid him in putting things right.
Speculation also swirled around the nationality of the next pope, whether he was to be chosen from among African, Asian, European, Latin American or North American cardinals. If he had been a European, the choice would have been between a "classical" Italian prelate or one from another European country. Africa and Latin America have been important areas of growth for the church. Africa is the front line for competition between Christianity and Islam while Latin America accounts for 40 percent of the world's Catholics.
With Francis, in a sense, the cardinals could have it two ways: As the former archbishop of Buenos Aires he comes from the church in Argentina, but he is the son of an Italian railway worker and his wife who went to that country as immigrants.
Not only is the new pontiff the first Francis and the first Latin American, but he also is the first Jesuit to lead the church, having been the former head of the scholarly order.
Questions remain on where the pope will stand on issues such as the relationship between the shortage of priests and the continued requirement of priestly celibacy and the nonordination of women. There is also the matter of what Pope Francis will do about the child sex abuse that has darkened the reputation of the church in recent years in the United States, Ireland and elsewhere.
Pope Francis is described as conservative in his approach to social issues. At the same time, he is well known for his personal humility and dedication to social justice. During his time in Buenos Aires, he rode the bus to work, cooked for himself and visited the poor in city slums.
In any case, the 266th pope begins with the good wishes of the world, including the Post-Gazette, in the work he will find among his flock. Pope Francis will play an important role as a significant moral force and as a leader, not only of Catholic believers but of all who wish to see good done and peace prevail in the world.