Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, from Argentina, was elected the 266th Pontiff on Wednesday. His political position in many issues is going to affect 1.2 billion Catholics, some of whom feel let down by the Church. Pope Francis, as he is known now, is the first Jesuit ever to serve as pope and is also a progressive.
Pope Francis' reputation for personal simplicity conjures an image of a Prince of the Church who chose to live in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop's palace, who gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus to work, and who cooked his own meals.
His appeal is that he personally straddles the divide between liberals and conservatives in the church.
Pope Francis’ leading role during the Argentine economic crisis burnished his reputation as a voice of conscience, and made him a potent symbol of the costs globalization can impose on the world's poor. He has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor. He has denounced the conditions migrant workers endure as a form of slavery.
On matters of sexual morality he is an orthodox, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children. However, that same year he spoke out in a heated meeting of bishops and advocated that the church in Argentina support the idea of civil unions for gay couples.
However, he has preached respect for homosexuals and has shown deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS, visiting a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients.
Last year he severely criticized priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of "rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism."
Pope Francis brings together the first world and the developing world in his own person. He's a Latin American with Italian roots, who studied in Germany. As a Jesuit he's a member of a truly international religious community, and his ties to Comunione e Liberazione (the ecclesial movement founded in 1954 that moved away from partisan politics and towards cultural, charitable and educational works) make him part of another global network.
He draws respect from both conservatives and moderates for his keen pastoral sense, his intelligence, and his personal modesty. He's also seen as a genuinely spiritual soul, and a man of deep prayer.
"We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church," the Pope said recently. "It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former."