When he was elected bishop of Rome this past March 13, more than a few people wondered just who Jorge Mario Bergoglio was — which was precisely the reaction to the election of Karol Wojtyla as bishop of Rome on October 16, 1978. That night, Wojtyla described himself to his new diocese as having come “from a far country”; nine months ago, Bergoglio told the crowds gathered in the Roman dusk that the cardinals had gone “to the end of the earth” to find a new pope. Wojtyla, taking the name John Paul II, went on to become the most consequential pope in centuries; Bergoglio, taking the name of the beloved poverello of Assisi, quickly seized the public imagination, reminding the world in the process that the world needs a pastor’s care, and a pastor’s challenge, whether the world admits it or not.
Yet many still wonder just who Pope Francis is. To which the answer is: He is a man of many parts. He is a radically converted Christian disciple who has known the mercy of God in his own life and who wants others to know that experience. He is an old-fashioned Jesuit, steeped in the Ignatian idea of spiritual combat, committed to an austere way of life, willing to take risks for the sake of the Gospel. He is a reformer who is calling the Catholic Church to recover the missionary zeal of its origins, and who will make structural changes in the Church in service to that evangelical imperative.