Pope Francis Washes the Feet of Inmates at a Youth Detention Center in Rome. Image from Associated Press and Huffington Post.

Well, white smoke came out of the Vatican chimney, and the Roman Catholics have a new Pope — and an interesting one at that! Pope Francis I (formerly Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) was elected on March 13th. He’s the first non-European Pope in centuries, he’s the first Jesuit Pope, and he has struck out on a new path by bringing his interest in simple living and advocacy for the poor into the Vatican. In his first days, he refused to wear the golden cross of his predecessors, preferring a simple iron cross, making his own phone calls, use public transportation instead of the “Popemobile,” and broke with tradition on Maundy Thursday by going to a prison and washing the feet of inmates. He chose the name of “Francis” to hold up the values of Saint Francis, who valued simplicity and service, honoring the poor, and respecting creation. Though there are those who criticize Archbishop Bergoglio for certain stances, we have to recognize how much of a transforming power he might be.

So what does all of this mean for Moravians? Nothing, directly. We abandoned the idea of a Pope over five hundred years ago, and even stepped away from having an earthly spiritual head in 1741 when we formally elected Jesus Christ as Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. But indirectly, it may have a lot to do with us, since many of the new Pope’s values – respect for the poor, the “last and the least,” valuing Creation, simplicity of life – are also Moravian values. And historically, the resignation of Benedict has a connection to our history: the last Pope to resign from office was Gregory XII, just a couple of days prior to the burning of Jan Hus in 1415. He had been elected specifically to serve as an interim Pope while the Western Schism, the fight between the Avignon Pope Benedict XIII and Antipope John XXIII, was resolved. The conflict of the three opposing Popes was resolved at the Council of Constance; the other business of the Council was the trail and execution of Jan Hus, whose followers later organized the Unitas Fratrum or Moravian Church. If you’re interested in this historic event, you can read more about it on my blog at The Last Pope Who Resigned.

We want to echo the values of simple living, respect for animals and creation, and ministry to the poor that the newly elected Pope accentuates with his name choice. So this month, we’ll be screening the classic 1972 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon (about Saint Francis) and later this year we’ll be joining many other churches in holding a pet blessing service near Saint Francis’ feast day in early October. We’ve discussed such a service for many years, so this is the year we’ll put it into practice!