What election of Pope Francis means to other Christians

(Photo: Reuters / Osservatore Roma)Newly elected Pope Francis I (2nd R), Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, walks in the 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore during a private visit in Rome March 14, 2013. Pope Francis, barely 12 hours after his election, quietly left the Vatican early on Thursday to pray for guidance as he looks to usher a Roman Catholic Church mired in intrigue and scandal into a new age of simplicity and humility.

The Roman Catholic Church has certainly been establishing precedents.

It elected its first Latin American as Pope Francis 1 only week after Benedict XVI became the first pontiff to step down voluntarily in 600 years.

Then at his first day in the office, the Argentinian Pope known for shunning pomp was breaking convention again.

Papal spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said that instead of taking the papal car prepared for him to return to the papal hotel, Domus Sanctae Marthae, Francis I took the same minibus he had arrived in along with the other cardinals.

He also showed a sense of humor when he briefly addressed the cardinals at the festive supper after his election. After thanking them, he said, "May God forgive you [for what you have done]."

The election of Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope has already had an impact on Catholicism and Christianity especially in terms of papal style.

"We are delighted to greet a pope from Argentine, the first pope from the Global South.

"Today the vast majority of Christians live in the Global South," said World Council of Churches general secretary, Rev. Olav Fyske Tveit, after Pope Francis was elected on March 13.

"The growth of Christianity in the South is likely to continue. This shift has already had an important impact on world Christianity."

The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the Geneva-based WCC that represents some 560 million mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Christians.

But the Catholic Church is represented on the WCC's Faith and Order Commission and cooperates with it in many other spheres. Long before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger served on that body.

"The election of a new pope, Francis I, is a turning point in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, but it also has an impact on people of other churches and faiths," reacted Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran.

His role in promoting Christian unity was recognized by Rev. Nilton Giese a Brazilian who is general secretary of Latin America Council of Churches (CLAI).

"It is our hope that in the coming years, the Roman Catholic Church, under your leadership, and the Reformed churches will harvest the spiritual fruits of this dialogue dedicated also to the healing of memories," said.

Not all Latin American clerics are enthused by his election, though.

Bishop Frank de Nully Brown of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina said, "The choice of Bergoglio confirms the direction that the Roman Catholic Church had already taken in the times of Benedict XVI."

He is expecting more of the same.

The Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches seems to want the Catholics do to more for Church unity.

He said, "It is our hope that in the coming years, the Roman Catholic Church, under your leadership, and the Reformed churches will harvest the spiritual fruits of this dialogue dedicated also to the healing of memories."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, only recently installed himself, said he looks forward to meeting Pope Francis.

"His election is also of great significance to Christians everywhere, not least among Anglicans. We have long since recognised - and often reaffirmed - that our churches hold a special place for one another," he said.

Welby will be enthroned on March 21 as the most senior cleric in the Church of England and as spiritual leader of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion said he looked forward to meeting Pope Francis.

The president of the National Council of Churches USA, Kathryn M. Lohre said the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as the first non-European pontiff in more than 1,000 years, suggests winds of change in the Catholic Church.

"All of us have seen profound growth among Christians of every tradition in Latin America and throughout the southern hemisphere. We pray all of us will be attentive and responsive to the Christian witness that is emanating from that part of the world," she said.

Of course the speculation about what Francis will or won't do for the Church is just beginning.

Simon Barrow who heads the UK think tank Ekklesia noted: "The new pope is regarded as a humble and pastoral man. He has chosen not to live in a palace and to use public transport….He does not 'stand on ceremony', as his modest appearance on the balcony of the Basilica at St Peter's illustrated.

"At the age of 76 Francis I is unlikely to have a long tenure, but this does not mean he cannot bring change. Among 'transitional papacies' has been that of Pope John XXIII, who launched Vatican II. No-one is predicting another major Council in the coming years, but a quiet incumbent who is more in touch with the grassroots and the global church may be able to bring an unexpected level of change in certain areas.

Ekklesia said it might the wrong approach to focus on Pope Francis' strongly conservative views on bioethical issues and on same-sex marriage.

"That is to be expected. None of the other cardinals would have represented a substantial shift in those areas. But those involved in development and work alongside the poor hope that Francis can apply his pastoral instincts anew in looking at the AIDS-HIV crisis, for example."

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