When Jorge Mario Bergoglio entered the Society of Jesus at the age of 21, he dreamed of serving as a missionary in Japan. As it turned out, health worries kept him home in Argentina. Though he eventually became the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the commitment to mission never left him.
At the conclave where he was elected pope last year, Cardinal Bergoglio delivered brief remarks outlining his vision for the Church. Evangelization, he proclaimed, is the Church's reason for being. But to realize this purpose, the Church must "come out of herself" and "go to the peripheries, not only in the geographic sense but also the existential peripheries." His remarks struck an enthusiastic chord with the assembled cardinals, contributing to his election as pope.
Since then, as Pope Francis, he has captured the hearts of many others, both within and beyond the Church, through his humility, his embrace of poverty and his evident love for all humanity. In all this, he has fulfilled the promise implied in his choice of name. It was St. Francis of Assisi, after all, who renewed and reformed the Church of his time by recalling the memory of Jesus in his poverty and compassion for the sick and marginalized.
But behind all the pope's words and gestures there is the deeper challenge he poses to all of us who constitute the Church: to recover our true purpose as a "community of missionary disciples," a phrase borrowed from the final statement of the Aparecida document, which Cardinal Bergoglio drafted for the Latin American bishops in 2007.