We have a pope! With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, Roman Catholics around the world welcomed their 266th pontiff, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Cardinal Bergoglio, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the first non-European leader of the Church in more than 1000 years; the first pope from South America, where 40 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics live; and the first Jesuit.
His debut was spectacular with his demonstration of humility, signaled by his taking the name Francis – another first in the Church's 2,000 year history. In doing so, he took on the mantle of Saint Francis of Assisi, the rich man's son, who after living a youthful life of worldly pleasures, took a vow of poverty, and dedicated himself to serving the poor.
How appropriate for a priest who has committed his life and office to care for the least fortunate.
How appropriate for the priest who frequented the slums of Buenos Aires and washed the feet of AIDS victims.
How appropriate for the priest who became cardinal yet eschewed a mansion and a limousine in favor of taking the city bus to work, taking up residence in a modest apartment, and preparing his own meals.
And how appropriate, for the man who, when elected pope, appeared on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square, refused to sit on the papal white chair, and bowed his head and asked for the crowd's prayers.
Perhaps no one put it better than our own non-Catholic President, Barack Obama who said: "As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years – that in each other we see the face of God."
Yet, for all of the beauty of the moment, I could not help but think all of this is but a honeymoon, after which Pope Francis will face a long list of deeply troubling challenges, under the burden of which most would be crushed.
There is a reasonable expectation that Pope Francis will deal with the sex scandals currently rocking the Church. But to judge by his record and past pronouncements, there is no reason to believe that he will deviate any time soon from Church teachings on the ordination of married men and women, abortion, gay rights, and contraception.
But perhaps that is not his first call to action. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll suggests that although American Catholics may not agree with the Church's positions on these Church teachings, what they seem to want most of all is, as one Cardinal put it, for the new pope to "to be open to the world, to the troubles of the world, to society … to bring the Gospel to the people."
Page 2 of 2 - Where does he begin? Perhaps by reinforcing the Church's roots in social justice, something this pope knows better than most and for which he has demonstrated his passion for entirety of his life in the clergy.
The honeymoon will end soon enough. All we can do is to accept his request to pray for his success.
Bryan Le Beau is an historian and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Saint Mary.