Argentine native and international evangelist Luis Palau considers Jorge Bergoglio, the newly elected Pope Francis, a personal friend. So, Palau says, he was especially excited yesterday to hear that Catholic cardinals had selected Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, to replace Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI after his resignation.
CT spoke with Palau, who offered his perspective on Pope Francis both as an evangelist and as Bergoglio's personal friend. (CT has also gathered reactions from evangelical leaders in the United States and Argentina.)
What was your reaction when you heard that Bergoglio had been selected as pope?
It was exciting because of Argentina, because of his personality, and because of his openness toward evangelical Christians. I got kind of emotional, simply having known him.
He came in second to Pope Benedict XVI in the last election and pulled out of the vote voluntarily, because he thought, 'We shouldn't be doing this, vote after vote.' I said to him when I saw him afterward, 'What a pity! I thought I would be able to say I know the pope as my friend.' I said he'd probably get elected the next time, but he said, 'No, I'm too old.'
It was a total surprise [yesterday], because I also thought he was past the age. Since last time he didn't win, I figured he wouldn't win this time. But here we go: He got elected. He's not too old.
You count the pope as a personal friend. What can you tell me about his character—as a man, and a Christian, not just as a Cardinal?
You know he knew God the father personally. The way he prayed, the way he talked to the Lord, was of a man who knows Jesus Christ and was very spiritually intimate with the Lord. It's not an effort [for him] to pray. He didn't do reading prayers; he just prayed to the Lord spontaneously. It is a sign that good things will happen worldwide in the years of his papal work.
He's very warm and gentle and spiritual. He may not go around smiling all the time—he's not a Hollywood actor—but he's a very warm person; you don't feel cold and distant from him. He's always been warm. He likes to mingle with people.
He's gentle in his conversation. He's always asking people for prayer. It's surprising that he did it in public [at his first address], but anybody who knows him, [knows that] he always would say, 'Please pray for me.' He really meant it. He said it always.
What can you tell me about Bergoglio's leadership style?
He's a very Bible-centered man, a very Jesus Christ-centered man. He's more spiritual than he is administrative, although he's going to have to exercise his administrative skills now! But personally, he is more known for his personal love for Christ. He's really centered on Jesus and the Gospel, the pure Gospel.
We'll see what the effects will be for international relationships and openness, because he's not a manipulator. He's a straightforward, straight-shooting person. He says what he thinks and he does it sincerely.
Although he's gentle, he has strong moral convictions and he stands by them even if he has to confront the government. And he's done it before. With the evangelical community, it was a very big day when we realized that he really was open, that he has great respect for Bible-believing Christians, and that he basically sides with them. … They work together. That takes courage. That takes respect. It takes conviction. So the leaders of the evangelical church in Argentina have a high regard for him, simply because of his personal lifestyle, his respect, his reaching out and spending time with them privately.