This morning, Wednesday, March 13, 2013, I watched on TV the introduction of the new Pope, Argentina’s, 75 year old, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. As he walked out the door and through the curtains to the balcony overlooking St Peters square, the 100,000 umbrella’d believers erupted into prolonged cheering and applause for the first Pope from the western hemisphere, the first Franciscan Pope, hence, Pope Francis the First.

Even though I was a practising Catholic for 35 years, I’ve not been one for the past 20 years, so I felt no special personal attraction to the event. But I did feel a sense of joy and pride, because there is a greater significance in the selection of a new Pope that transends a specific religion or denomination, perhaps because this one man can effect the social and spiritual lives of 1.2 billion believers worldwide.

Pope Francis the First is about to take the reins of the church when some of its most basic tenets of are being challenged. Contrary to established church doctrine, according to most recent polls, 58% of catholic believers favor abortion “in some cases”, 62% believe the church should accept divorce, 63% favor the use of contraceptives.

A growing number of catholics believe Priests should be allowed to marry, that women should have a greater role in leadership and liturgy, and all of this with the overlay of the priestly sex abuse and coverup scandal with horrendous moral and financial consequences. The Vatican gardens are rife with thorny issues. But Pope Francis the First, in his first few words spoken from that famous balcony overlooking the multitudes, indicated he is the right Gardener for the times.

Like St Francis himself, the Patron Saint of the natural environment, and of animals, birds, fish and all God’s living creatures, the gentleness and humility of the new Pope were clearly evident.

After thanking the people for their tremendous welcome, he invited them to pray for him. “Brothers and sisters please pray for me. Let us pray silently together”.

And then he prayed aloud, again with the people, the most common and universal prayer of all; The Lord’s Prayer.

I think I was especially touched by the event this morning because as a youngster learning California history, I was always fascinated by the Franciscan monk, Father Junipero Serra who founded nine of the 21 Spanish missions spanning the length of the state, and having a major role in several others. And because my catholic faith sustained me through some very dark times in my life.

Three years ago while travelling in Italy, Susan and I sought out the picturesque town of Assisi where St. Francis ministered to the poor in the early 1200s AD, and we prayed at his tomb there in the lower catacombs of the majestic basilica of St. Francis.

Finally, in honoring the new Pope, Francis the First, I am moved to share one of Christianity’s most moving prayers which is also set to music; The “Prayer of Saint Francis”. If you choose to read it, please do so thoughtfully, and appreciate!

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek…
To be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
It is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life

Long live Pope Francis the First!
May his rein be fruitful, and may his legacy be rich.