Archbishop Vincent Nichols welcomes Pope Francis

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Archbishop Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, reflects on the historic election of Pope Francis – the first Jesuit Pope, the first Argentinian Pope, the first non-European Pope in over 1,000 years.

“It is a remarkable and very exciting moment. I think it’s wonderful that the Church can come up with such a surprise and absolutely hold the world’s attention and put somebody there who is really going to bring something fresh to the papacy.”

Did we see the Jesuit spirituality with the humble and prayerful initial address to St Peter’s Square and the world?

“I’m sure that’s the fruit of Jesuit spirituality and of a deep spiritual life, but it is wonderful that after over 400 years of the Society of Jesus there is now a Jesuit Holy Father and a pope that has been formed in that school.

“It’s also fascinating that he’s from an Italian family, from a working-class background growing up in Latin America and he has studied in Germany – so he understands European academic life. He’s a trained scientist who brings together the worlds of science and faith. So he’s a man who’s got immense riches in his life experience that will now be brought to the service of the Church as the universal pastor, as the priest for the world, as the Holy Father.”

With those wonderful gifts, we see a man of the people with a deep commitment to poverty and social issues…

“Obviously there is – here in this country and around the world – great interest in Catholic Social Teaching and what we have now is a Holy Father who will give a sharp edge to that teaching through his experience of being alongside people who are poor and for whom poverty, to some extent, is increased because of some of the economic structures and activities that go on in a globalised world.

“He will bring an extra dimension to the on-going development of Catholic Social Teaching and that will be very exciting too.”

What would you say to the Catholics of England and Wales who woke up joyous at this news?

“The relationship between the faithful – me, all of us – and the Holy Father is one of the heart. He resides in our heart – he’s our father. We’ve not just been given a new Chief Executive. He’s a father in God, the father of a family and that’s a moment of great joy.

“For me, personally, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as keenly the absence of a Pope. Now we have a father – Habemus Papum – and we should be very joyful indeed”.