Argentina's evangelical leaders were just as surprised as anyone when Jorge Mario Bergoglio, former archbishop of Buenos Aires, was revealed Wednesday as the new Pope Francis. But they were not surprised when his first words broke from papal tradition.
In a move that Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano called "unprecedented and shocking," before Francis offered the world the traditional papal blessing, he asked those watching to first pray for him.
Such a request is one of Bergoglio's trademarks, said Juan Pablo Bongarrá, president of the Argentine Bible Society.
"Whenever you talk to him, the conversation ends with a request: 'Pastor, pray for me," said Bongarrá. He recalls when Bergoglio once attended a weekly worship meeting organized by Buenos Aires's charismatic pastors. "He mounted the platform and called for pastors to pray for him," said Bongarrá. "He knelt in front of nearly 6,000 people, and [Protestant leaders] laid hands and prayed."
Prayer came up frequently as several of Argentina's leading evangelicals, known for their unity efforts in Buenos Aires, described their thoughts on the new pope.
"His election has been an answer to our prayers," said Norberto Saracco, rector of Buenos Aires's FIET seminary and co-leader of the capital city's Council of Pastors. "Bergoglio is a man of God. He is passionate for the unity of the Church—but not just at the institutional level. His priority is unity at the level of the people." ...