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Today, Pope Francis will arrive from Cuba for his first visit to the United States. The head of the Catholic Church, Francis is the spiritual leader to more than one billion people around the globe and one of the most influential people on the planet. But why should evangelicals know basic facts about the pontiff? As Chris Castaldo has said, “whether we like it or not, the pope is, in a certain (global) sense, the single most significant Christian voice in the world.” (UPDATE: Please see the addendum at the end of this article.)
Here are nine things you should know about Pope Francis:
1. Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936 to an Italian immigrant father and a mother of Italian decent. He is the first pope from South America, and the first pope born outside Europe since Gregory III, who was born in modern-day Syria and elected in 731.
2. Francis studied philosophy at the Catholic University of Buenos Aires and also has a master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires. He worked as a teacher of literature, psychology, philosophy, and theology before becoming the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
3. Francis was ordained a Jesuit priest on Dec. 13, 1969, and is the first Jesuit pope. A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
4. Francis served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013. He developed a reputation for eschewing luxury as an example to others and to show solidarity with the poor. For example, instead of wearing the extravagant robes of his position, he would wear the more humble robes of a simple priest. He also used public transportation for local travel and lived in a small flat with an older priest rather than in the archbishop’s palace. Despite having access to a personal chef he also would make his own meals himself.
5. When he was elected to the papacy on March 13, 2013, Bergoglio took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation,” the same created world “with which we don’t have such a good relationship.” No other pope has chosen the name Francis. (See also: 9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy)
6. In June 2015, Francis released Laudato Si’ a controversial encyclical on the environment that was directed to “every person living on the planet.” The goal and purpose of the document was “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environment challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (You can find my section-by-section summary of the entire encyclical here.)