What Kind Of Leader Might Pope Francis Be?

Even before he spoke a word, the Catholic Church's new pope sent a signal to the world about what kind of leader he may be by choosing the name Pope Francis. The Vatican has confirmed that is a homage to St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century Italian nobleman who renounced the trappings of wealth and became a champion for the poor. For more, Renee Montagne speaks with the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst with the National Catholic Reporter.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Even before he spoke a word, the Catholic Church's new pope sent a signal to the world about what kind of leader he may be by choosing the name Pope Francis.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Vatican has confirmed that that name is an homage to St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century Italian nobleman who renounced the trappings of wealth and became a champion for the poor.

MONTAGNE: Joining us now to learn more about this is Father Thomas Reese. He's an analyst with the National Catholic Reporter, watching the events in Rome. Good morning.

FATHER THOMAS REESE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So the new Pope is a member of the Jesuit religious order, as you are. He is the first Jesuit to ascend to the papacy. Tell us about the Jesuits and what this suggests Pope Francis will bring to the Vatican.

REESE: Well, this was a real surprise to us Jesuits. We'd never had a pope elected who was a Jesuit. We're the largest religious community in the Catholic Church, with Jesuits everywhere in the world, for all practical purposes. We have a large number of colleges and universities and high schools in the United States. So we're very much involved in education.

We're also involved in theological research. So I think that what we will see from Pope Francis is an emphasis on evangelization, on preaching the gospel, on helping people to understand the message of Jesus.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should mention, also, Father Reese, that by choosing the name Francis, there's a nod here to another religious order: the Franciscans. What's the symbolism there, do you think?

REESE: Oh, I think it's fascinating. I think there's a number of things that the name Francis brings to mind. First was his commitment to living a life of poverty, and we've seen this in the new pope. When he became the archbishop of Buenos Aires, he refused to live in the bishop's palace. Instead, he got a simple apartment where he cooked his own meals. He got rid of the chauffeur-driven limousine and took the bus to work.

So I think we're going to see a simpler lifestyle brought to the Vatican, to the papal court, which I think is going to be a shock to some of those people.

INSKEEP: Can that translate to substantive changes in church policies, church plans, the focus of the church?

REESE: Well, I think that Pope Francis is a traditionalist when it comes to theology. He's in total continuity with Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II. So we're not going to see any big changes in church teaching. On the other hand, he's an extremely strong progressive when it comes to social justice issues, very concerned about the poor.

He fought the Argentine government when they cut benefits for poor people. He is very concerned about the impact of globalization on workers in the Third World. So he's certainly not the candidate from Wall Street.

MONTAGNE: Well, Father Reese, just briefly, do we know anything about how the pope might reach out to other religions of the world?

REESE: Yes. You know, he has a good economical record in Buenos Aires. In fact, he was attacked by Catholic conservatives because he was in a prayer service with evangelicals in Argentina. And also, he has a very good relationship with the Jewish community. He coauthored a book with a rabbi in Argentina and, you know, he reached out to the Jewish community when there was a terrible bombing of a Jewish organization's building back in 1992. And so he is very, very well like there.

MONTAGNE: Father Thomas Reese, an analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, speaking to us from Rome. Thank you very much.

REESE: You're welcome.

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