Updated: March 19, 2013 08:42 PM GMT
Pope Francis – the first pontiff from the ‘other side of the world’ – will refocus the attention of the Church on mission areas instead of its traditional inward gaze on its shrinking homeland in Europe and the West.
During the two days of voting in the conclave, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina received early and strong support from electing cardinals – especially those from outside Europe, according to an Asian cardinal who asked not to be named because of the secrecy that surrounds the conclave.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told a staff meeting that Pope Francis had been quite direct about his vision for the Church, according to a report by the Vatican’s Fides news service.
He “urged us to come out of ourselves, not to yield to the temptation of egocentricity, but to go to the needy, to bring a proclamation of joy and hope to all those organizations marked by material and spiritual poverty,” Filoni was reported to have said.
Many in Asia had pinned their hopes on Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, considered by several analysts as a possible candidate for pope.
Tagle, who at 55 is the second-youngest cardinal in the Church, praised the new pope after the election. At Pope Francis’s first meeting with his cardinals on Friday, cameras showed Tagle talking cordially for a few minutes and sharing a hearty laugh before parting.
In his brief speech during the meeting, Pope Francis urged the cardinals not to “yield to pessimism or discouragement,” but to find the “courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, so as to bring the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth.”
He further emphasized that the Church’s message remains “as valid today as it was at the origin of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel took place.”
According to Filoni, the pope’s first message was to “go out towards those in need, to proclaim the Gospel in the suburbs”.
That message, and Pope Francis’s own personal history, has begun to resonate, according to Stefano Femminis, editor of the Jesuit monthly magazine Popoli.
“A pope coming ‘from the end of the world’ will definitely open the Church to globalization, with all its potential and unrsolved challenges,” Femminis said, referring to a phrase Pope Francis used during his speech to the more than 100,000 people who packed St Peter’s Square to greet him after his election.
Francis’s election, Femminis added, will “call back the Church to its universal origin in a disruptive way.”
Top among the Asian challenges that Francis will face remains the Vatican’s fraught relations with the Chinese government.
China’s foreign ministry on Thursday said it hoped the new pope would take a “practical and flexible” attitude during a press briefing, during which it also urged the Vatican to break off so-called diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
At a media briefing on Friday, Lombardi welcomed the official election of the new Chinese leadership.
Nevertheless, he warned that the Vatican's relations with China would require “a lot of patience and attention to follow the social and political development in China.”
He also stressed that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sent his best wishes to the country's new leader of the Communist Party.
But China has already signaled his displeasure after Taiwan's president announced his intention to attend Francis’s installation Mass on Tuesday.
The Vatican maintains official diplomatic relations with Taiwan and only has informal contacts with Mainland China.
But despite the challenges that lie ahead, the immediate result of the conclave was “very emotional”, according to Filoni.
“We cardinals ‘indicated’, not elected, the new pope. He was chose by God. If Mother Teresa prayed to be ‘a pencil in the hands of God’, for me this election was a dash in God’s plan. It was a unique experience,” he was quoted as saying by Fides.
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