DENVER — Despite “seeming anomalies” in the election of Pope Francis, a former ambassador to the Vatican said that seeing the event through the eyes of faith can give us a glimpse into the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
“I have confidence in the College of Cardinals and the Holy Spirit,” said Jim Nicholson, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See from 2001-2005.
“They know very well what the Church needs today,” he told CNA.
On March 13, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected by the cardinals as the new Pope, taking the name Francis.
The Holy Father made his first public appearance from the balcony of St. Peter’s on the evening of March 13, greeting the crowds gathered in the square below. Pope Francis’ installation Mass as Bishop of Rome will be on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, at 9:30am in St. Peter’s Square.
Nicholson said that while some may “think there are superficial contradictions” in the election of Cardinal Bergoglio, he finds the choice “terrific.”
“A combination of social justice and orthodoxy. That is greatly needed,” he said.
One of the apparent anomalies surrounding the election was the fact that Cardinal Bergoglio’s name had not been one of those mentioned as a top possibility for pope when the conclave began, said Nicholson. And while it had seemed like the cardinals were largely undecided and there was no clear frontrunner, the conclave lasted just two days — shorter than many Vatican analysts had anticipated.
The former ambassador said that while this contradicted many people’s expectations, it shows that Pope Francis was “obviously very well regarded” among his brother cardinals.
The choice of Cardinal Bergoglio was also “very positive,” he explained, because there is such a “heavy concentration of Catholics in Latin America,” and the Church there has the potential for significant growth.
Nicholson also said that he sees the election of the Church’s first Jesuit pope as significant.
Pope Francis “has been providing a literal example of Christ’s humility,” he said, describing the new Pontiff as man who has lived a life of austerity, “while being a highly regarded scholar.”
The Pope is a “model of simplicity and humility, riding public transportation to work, living in a small apartment,” he reflected.
The Holy Father’s choice of the name “Francis” is another of the “seeming anomalies,” Nicholson said, observing that St. Francis of Assisi is “the founder of an order of which he is not a part.”
In addition, he said, although St. Francis of Assisi is “one of the most beloved saints in the Church,” no pope has ever taken his name before.
However, taking St. Francis’ name is “consistent with his lifestyle,” which is characterized by humility, austerity and a dedication to the poor, he explained.
The age of the Holy Father — 76, one year past the customary retirement age for bishops — was also a surprise to the former ambassador. Still, he commented, the cardinals see “in him the energy to do the job,” which will assuredly be an “enormous” task.
Ultimately, Nicholson explained, he has confidence in the new Holy Father because he trusts that the Holy Spirit was guiding the cardinals in voting for the man whom the Church needs as a spiritual leader at this moment in history.
He said, the election has “created a new paradigm.”