Papal Historian Reflects on Pope Francis’s First Year

In the historic run up to the election of Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio as pope, Church historian Christopher Bellitto spoke almost nonstop with national and international media organizations as they explored the possibilities and probabilities for the successor to St. Peter’s throne.

But, as he said during a recent talk at Georgian Court, the selection of the first Jesuit, the first Pope Francis, and first pope from the new world, surprised him and millions of others.

Dr. Bellitto, a frequent contributor to CNN and other outlets, spoke to a GCU audience of 130 students, faculty, staff, and members of the community during the university’s March 11 discussion of Pope Francis’ first year.

The Catholicism expert took listeners back in time to what would turn out to be the night of Francis’s election. Dr. Bellitto said he was determinedly preparing what is known as “b copy” —or background content—when his wife called and told him to stop writing and wait to see whom the cardinals had elected.

And, he acknowledged, the appearance of Francis on the balcony was, as it turns out, not only surprising but transformative.

From his papal name to his greeting of “buona sera,” to the pronouncement of his role not as pope but as “bishop of Rome,” the crowd was mesmerized, Dr. Bellitto said, noting that what has come to be known as “the Francis effect” was underway.

For over an hour, Dr. Bellitto, chair and associate professor of history at Kean University and a frequent public speaker and commentator on Church history, held forth on the papal events of the past year.

He noted that the style and sensibility of the pope from the New World—his plain clothes, his plain manner of speaking, his accessibility and visible outreach, his palpable concern for the poor and the weak, and his obvious ease with people—have sparked an increase of interest in and, by extension, regard for this pope.

All these points and many more were noted in an outline Dr. Bellitto created to help illustrate his presentation. The audience listened intently as he discussed the resignation of Pope Benedict and highlighted the fact that while Pope Francis has offered the faithful a “climate change” in approach that seems more down to earth, there have not been, nor are they likely to be, doctrinal changes.

GCU students Justine Mattia and Briana Molino, who are studying theological ethics, appreciated Dr. Bellitto’s approach.

“I thought it placed the pope within the context of the Church since the Second Vatican Council,” said Briana. “It grabbed my attention throughout.”

Overall, his presentation increased their knowledge of Pope Francis and the papacy, they said.

“I gained a lot of information from it,” said Justine, a criminal justice major.”It was good to learn about the impact of his leadership.”

Contributed by Lois Rogers

In the historic run up to the election of Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio as pope, Church historian Christopher Bellitto spoke almost nonstop with national and international media organizations as they explored the possibilities and probabilities for the successor to St. Peter’s throne.

But, as he said during a recent talk at Georgian Court, the selection of the first Jesuit, the first Pope Francis, and first pope from the new world, surprised him and millions of others.

Dr. Bellitto, a frequent contributor to CNN and other outlets, spoke to a GCU audience of 130 students, faculty, staff, and members of the community during the university’s March 11 discussion of Pope Francis’ first year.

The Catholicism expert took listeners back in time to what would turn out to be the night of Francis’s election. Dr. Bellitto said he was determinedly preparing what is known as “b copy” —or background content—when his wife called and told him to stop writing and wait to see whom the cardinals had elected.

And, he acknowledged, the appearance of Francis on the balcony was, as it turns out, not only surprising but transformative.

From his papal name to his greeting of “buona sera,” to the pronouncement of his role not as pope but as “bishop of Rome,” the crowd was mesmerized, Dr. Bellitto said, noting that what has come to be known as “the Francis effect” was underway.

For over an hour, Dr. Bellitto, chair and associate professor of history at Kean University and a frequent public speaker and commentator on Church history, held forth on the papal events of the past year.

He noted that the style and sensibility of the pope from the New World—his plain clothes, his plain manner of speaking, his accessibility and visible outreach, his palpable concern for the poor and the weak, and his obvious ease with people—have sparked an increase of interest in and, by extension, regard for this pope.

All these points and many more were noted in an outline Dr. Bellitto created to help illustrate his presentation. The audience listened intently as he discussed the resignation of Pope Benedict and highlighted the fact that while Pope Francis has offered the faithful a “climate change” in approach that seems more down to earth, there have not been, nor are they likely to be, doctrinal changes.

GCU students Justine Mattia and Briana Molino, who are studying theological ethics, appreciated Dr. Bellitto’s approach.

“I thought it placed the pope within the context of the Church since the Second Vatican Council,” said Briana. “It grabbed my attention throughout.”

Overall, his presentation increased their knowledge of Pope Francis and the papacy, they said.

“I gained a lot of information from it,” said Justine, a criminal justice major.”It was good to learn about the impact of his leadership.”

Contributed by Lois Rogers

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