New Pope Praised by Evangelicals
Could the papacy of Francis I include more dialogue and unity between Catholics and Evangelicals?

The news from Rome yesterday that cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aries has been elected the 266th Pope has brought swift responses from around the globe. More progressive news agencies were quick to point out Bergoglio's conservative views on homosexuality, marriage, and contraception. Others focused on the new Pope's humility and concern for the poor in his native Argentina–a quality emphasized by Bergoglio choosing the name Francis I.

Evangelicals are also expressing their thoughts on the new Pope. My friend Kevin Palau, president of the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, emailed me yesterday with excitement. It turns out his father, Luis Palau, aslo from Argentina, is a close personal friend of Bergoglio. Luis reports that Francis I has been a good friend to evangelicals in Latin America.

A report from The Oregonian included Palau's reaction to the news:

"I exploded," Palau exclaimed. "I just couldn't believe it. In the last election, he was in the running but he told me he felt led by God to remove himself from the race. "I said, 'Maybe next time,' and he said, 'I'll be too old.'"

Palau has a history of praying with the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He said, "Whenever we pray together, [Bergoglio] says, 'lay your hands on me and pray for me, that God will keep me as servant.' " And Palau calls the new Pope a leader who is "respectful of all sides of Christianity."

And email from another evangelical leader in Argentina confirms Palau's assessment of Francis I. He writes:

"He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit-filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him"

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Francis' predecessors, each sought to create more unity between Catholics and other streams of Christianity. Given the new Pope's strong connections with evangelical leaders, and the charge Benedict gave the cardinals before the conclave to seek the spiritual renewal of the church, I wonder if we might see Francis pursue even more dialogue and cooperation with Protestants and evangelicals.

What is your take on the new Pope?

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March 14, 2013