By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 15 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
I chuckled interiorly when Daniel Barriga, a fifth grade student of St. Joachim School, confidently said Wednesday that the new Pope Francis, age 76, was a soccer player.
Shows how much I know, Daniel.
I returned home that night and learned that the San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer team had proudly tweeted an image of the former cardinal’s membership card that afternoon. The name and photo on it were unmistakably his: Bergoglio, Jorge Mario.
He became a “centennial member” in 2008 on the 100th anniversary of the soccer club, reportedly one of the five most popular teams in Argentina. It was named after a Buenos Aires priest, Rev. Lorenzo Massa, who allowed kids to play soccer in the church’s yard so they wouldn’t get hurt by trams in the street. In exchange, they would go to Sunday Mass.
Pope Francis is known to be an enthusiastic Raven, the nickname given to the team’s fans. A fellow devotee, architect Oscar Lucchini, told the Reuters news agency, “He (the pope) says he lives in a permanent state of suffering for San Lorenzo.”
That’s to be expected. San Lorenzo apparently ranks 12th in Argentina’s Primera Division. I’m sure loyal supporters of similarly… um… challenged sports teams can empathize.
Perhaps he still chanted in Spanish with other fans: “Ole ole ole / ole ole ole ola / ole ole ole, / each day I love you more! / Oh, it’s a feeling / that I carry inside. / I can’t stop! / I’ve followed you / since I was a child. /Come on, San Lorenzo, / come on let’s win!”
Whether fifth graders or popes, people can be full of surprises. Humans are like that.
By now, anyone curious about the new pontiff has probably heard he’s the first Latin American pope, the first non-European in more than 12 centuries (the most recent was Syrian), the first to adopt the name Francis, the first to belong to the learned Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits), and the first with only one lung (he lost his other one from a respiratory infection as a teenager).
Less obvious or unusual, Francis is allegedly an introvert, which doesn’t bother this fellow inward-looking soul one bit. The gift of reflection has its advantages, even if it is less celebrated or popular than the lively energy of the extrovert.
He finds inspiration in the humble life of the deacon and friar St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226), who helped reform the medieval Catholic Church while leading like-minded voluntary beggars who served the suffering.
As archbishop, he cooked “frugal and healthy” meals for himself, according to National Public Radio, and enjoyed fruit, skinless chicken, salads, and an occasional glass of wine. Refusing a chauffeured limousine and the archbishop’s palace, he rode the public metro bus and lived in a simple apartment. He cared for AIDS patients and the seriously sick, worked against poverty and human trafficking, ministered to divorcees, and championed the babies of unwed mothers against priests who refused them baptism.
He also preached and taught the good yet challenging news of Christianity, and earned the wrath of some by opposing abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.
In a February 2012 interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa (“The Press”), he spoke of the “new evangelization” (a term coined by Pope John Paul II) in Latin America:
“We need to come out of ourselves and head for the periphery. We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one.”
Asked then about a Vatican document leak scandal, he pointed out the timing of a gathering of cardinals at the start of Lent:
“It is an invitation to look at the church, holy and sinful as it is, to look at certain shortcomings and sins, without losing sight of the holiness of so many men and women who work in the church today. I must not be scandalized by the fact that the church is my mother… And when I think of her, I remember the good and beautiful things she has achieved, more than her weaknesses and defects.”