As the Cardinal-electors processed into the conclave on Tuesday, March 12, the Litany of the Saints was chanted. In it the Church Militant begs the Church Triumphant, the Saints in heaven, to pray and intercede for her needs on earth. Moreover, the fact that the Litany of the Saints is prescribed for solemn occasions such as a papal election or the conferral of Holy Orders is a reminder that the Church’s ordained priests are images of the One High Priest in heaven, and that the Church’s liturgy is for the faithful on earth a participation in the eternal heavenly liturgy. These truths are encapsulated in the article of faith that we profess every time we recite the Creed: “I believe in … the communion of saints.”
Rome this week has been crowded with young pilgrims, as many journalists have reported and as live television coverage at St. Peter’s Square showed. Consequently, Internet traffic, cellphone use and Tweets-per-minute have been off the charts. Yet doesn’t this phenomenon in the social media reflect an even more intense interest and activity within the communion of saints?
When this writer heard the Cardinal-deacon announce in Latin the name taken by the new Pope, “Francíscum”, the Saint from Assisi immediately came to mind, the Poverello or Little Poor Man whom Christ called in another difficult century to “rebuild His Church”. When the commentators began to describe the Cardinal who had just been elected, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit and until today the Primate of Argentina, I thought instead of St. Francis Xavier, one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus, who sailed to far-off lands to bring the Gospel to the peoples of Asia.
Also in the sixteenth-century there was Saint Francis Borgia (yes, from that noble family), who married, had eight children but was widowed at the age of thirty-six, renounced his duchy, became a Jesuit and eventually served as the Father General of the Society of Jesus.
The Church now has her first pope from the New World. Pre-conclave chatter about the possibility of a “Pope from America” (meaning the U.S. of A.) was short-sighted; when Rome refers to the Church in America, it always has both continents in mind. The saints themselves demonstrate that the Church is more deeply rooted in Latin America: the United States had to wait until 1976 for its first canonized saint, John Neumann (a nineteenth-century Bishop of Philadelphia), whereas St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres and St. Turibius (a missionary Bishop of Lima, Peru) lived and were canonized long before him.
Finally, the short biography of Pope Francis posted at the Vatican website mentions that as cardinal his titular church was San Roberto Bellarmino—the Church of Saint Robert Bellarmine, another great Jesuit theologian, Scripture commentator and apologist of the Counter Reformation period.
Before imparting his blessing to the crowds gathered on St. Peter’s Square (and in front of screens all over the world), Pope Francis asked for a moment of silence, so that the People of God could first ask for God’s blessing on the new Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter. Surely during that silence the saints mentioned in this article and many other Jesuit and Latin American saints prayed for that intention, too, even though they no longer have need of blessings given on earth.