For Catholics, the days leading to Easter are a time of spiritual renewal. In choosing the name Francis in his first act as pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina sent the world a hopeful message that he will be a man of action and compassion as he tries to reform a troubled church.
For Catholics, for other Christians, for people of other faiths and for nonbelievers, this man of firsts represents an opportunity for a shaky pillar of Western civilization to influence the world for good. His namesake, Francis of Assisi, said more than 800 years ago that he heeded a divine call to "repair my church." We wish Bergoglio the strength and courage and wisdom to do so as well.
At 76, he seems to possess the political skills and life experiences to do that. He has spoken forcefully to the Argentine government and has been around the Vatican long enough to appreciate how bureaucratic infighting has weakened the financial oversight role of the church.
He brings other firsts in addition to his name. He is the first pope from the Society of Jesus. Bergoglio's choice of Francis is also a likely nod to Francis Xavier, a student of the order's founder, Ignatius Loyola, and its first missionary. The Jesuits are credited with righting a church badly shaken by Martin Luther and the Reformation movement.
And he is the first pope from Latin America, where 46 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live.
In his first spiritual invocation, he asked for a moment of silence, he asked for prayers for himself, and then he recited with the throng in the square the simplest of Catholic prayers. He seems less a prince of the church than a servant of it. Unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Bergoglio seems ready to step firmly and joyfully into the future.
Those surprised that Bergoglio embraces the same doctrinal views as his predecessors had misplaced expectations. These are the teachings of the church and deeply held by the cardinals who elected him. The new pope opposes abortion and euthanasia and has spoken against same-sex marriage laws in Argentina. What we can expect is that he might have a different tone or appreciation for the deeply held contrary views on these moral issues.
Francis of Assisi was the patron saint of merchants, as well as those who loved the Earth and its creatures. Should Bergoglio continue on that path, he could offer the world a message about the balance that is necessary between the drive of capitalism and the need to protect the poor and weakest -- and about conserving and celebrating nature.
As the church gains plaudits using the latest technology to spread its religious message, there is a need for it to look deeply into technology's dangers as well. Robots, automation and the ascent of artificial intelligence have the troubling potential to devalue and dehumanize the worth of those pushed aside by its dominance.
If Bergoglio provides such leadership, it would help the church regain credibility and moral suasion in the world -- and elevate its platform to speak about social injustice, the environment and a fairer distribution of world resources.
It is an opportunity the world can pray, or at least hope, will not be lost.