Ballarat’s Catholic Bishop Paul Bird yesterday welcomed the election of Pope Francis, describing his first papal appearance as “gentle” and “warm”.
Hundreds of thousands of elated Catholics greeted the first South American pope with tumultuous cheers earlier this week, waving flags and applause when Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared on the balcony at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Wednesday night.
For 2000 years, no pope has taken the moniker Francis, until now. It was described by one expert as “the most stunning choice”, because of its links to St Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century reformer who lived in poverty.
Bishop Bird said he was surprised how quickly Pope Francis was elected and agreed choosing the name of St Francis of Assisi was an interesting decision.
“St Francis of Assisi was, in his own time, a reforming person, a renewing person,” he said.
“He was a reasonably wealthy man, but he put aside his wealth and adopted a very simple lifestyle in order to encourage people to focus on the basics, rather than be concerned with material wealth.
“Maybe the Pope’s choice of Francis is about encouraging people to focus on the essentials of their Christian life.”
Bishop Bird also said he was encouraged by Pope Francis’ first appearance in Rome, when he asked the gathered masses in St Peter’s Square to pray for him.
“My impression when the Pope appeared was of someone quite gentle and quite warm towards the people in the square,” he said.
“It’s an encouragement that the people in the square had a role to play as much as those on the balcony – and for ourselves locally, we’ve also got a role to play.”
Bishop Bird said there were reports of the new Pope, back when he was an Archbishop in Buenos Aires, being regularly seen catching public transport.
“I doubt he would be able to take too much public transport as Pope,” he said. “His security people might not be too keen on that.”