Area Catholics pleased with selection of new Pope

Pontiff seen as 'humble' leader for world-wide church

by Eric Marotta | News Leader Editor Published:

"Humility" is the first thing many area Catholics say to describe Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was elected the 265th Pope and took the name Francis on March 13.

The next thing they mention is the broad appeal Pope Francis, 76, is likely to have around the world -- and the challenges he will face.

The Rev. Fr. Edward Kordas, of St. Mary Church in Hudson, said Cardinal Bergoglio was a leading candidate when Benedict was elected and must have been remembered as a very prominent figure.

"I think I'm as much as surprised as the rest of the world," Kordas said. "This man was not among those who were talked about as front runners.

"He certainly is a very different personality than either John Paul the second or Benedict … He's a much more down-to-earth kind of man."

Kordas predicts Pope Francis will focus on three things for his papacy.

One would be social justice, with an emphasis on being a champion for the poor, he said. Another would be that he would be a reformer of the governing structure of the Church. And the third area would be his concern about young people and wanting to draw them into the church as much possible.

Sister Anne Marie Diederich, director of mission integration at Laurel Lake Retirement Community, said she was surprised and excited to learn the cardinals' choice for a pope is someone whose priority includes the marginalized and the poor.

"That's been very obvious from the beginning of his comments," Diederich said.

She said the Pope's chosen name of Francis reinforced his beliefs and said he shows by example.

"When he was going back to his residence, he was on the bus with everyone else," Diederich said.

The fact Pope Francis came from Latin America portrays a desire for more openness rather than the Roman and European perspective, she said.

"It's hopeful for the rest of us Americans but also people from Africa and Asia," Diederich said. "It's a wonderful signal."

Diederich said Catholics share a responsibility to support Pope Francis in prayer for what he will deal with as pope. She sees Pope Francis giving more attention to the people in the church and their spiritual needs.

"I don't expect major doctrinal changes but hope for and believe we'll see more of a pastoral emphasis from the pope," Diederich said.

Students at Seton Catholic School watched March 13 as Bergoglio was chosen as Pope Francis on the fifth ballot.

"We cheered as the curtains opened and our Holy Father addressed the Catholic faithful for the first time," said Principal Karen Alestock. "I am sure that this will be a moment that our students remember for a lifetime."

Seton kindergarten teachers Jacqueline Palumbo and Heather Urbanic said technology allowed the entire student body to share the "momentous occasion" together in real time.

"We are praying prayers of thanksgiving and hope for our new Pope," they said. "So often, we stop and become united due to unfortunate, tragic events in our world. Being able to pause and reflect and rejoice together the news of our new pope was a unique and blessed opportunity."

Third grade teacher Pat Zuponcic incorporated lessons about the history of conclaves and modern inventions in communications that allowed them to witness the event.

"Today we will learn more about Pope Francis, his education, family, and his work for the church," Zuponcic said. "This morning the students were impressed that he took the bus when he could have had a car and driver."

Seton seventh graders applauded and celebrated when the pope was announced, said Chris Bielecki, Seton middle school teacher. "The students got up and started applauding and hugging each other and giving each other high fives," Bielecki said. "It is great to be a Catholic today!" Bishop Richard Lennon, of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, called on the faithful to pray Pope Francis will by "word and example inspire and guide the Church."

"I also pray that Pope Francis may be a champion of the poor, a reconciler of nations, and a force for peace and unity in our world," Lennon said after the Vatican City announcement.

"The appearance of Pope Francis revealed a sincere and humble man," said the Rev. Jim Singler, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Cuyahoga Falls.

"It's only a speculation, but I think the cardinal-electors wanted to elect someone who would bring about a peaceful prayerful church, mindful of the third world and the poor, converting the powerful away from any wrongful 'stuff' … the 'powerful' being any church man, politician, man or woman."

The Rev. Ralph Wiatrowski, of St. Barnabas Parish in Northfield Center, said he is sure the new Pope is "overwhelmed at the thought of what he has to do."

"When you think of the Pope, who has the responsibility for 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, it extends into every country and culture, every language … what is a concern for you and me here, might not be much of a concern in Africa or Asia and vice versa. The challenges and concerns are really different and the Pope is the one who has to have a view of all those things.

"You really need someone who is very humble to try and take it on and do what needs to be done, or just be open to the possibilities of things that he may not have thought of at all," he said.

The Rev. Clyde Foster, pastor of Ss. Cosmas and Damian Parish in Twinsburg, said the selection of an Argentine Jesuit as Pope emphasizes that the Catholic church is a "world-wide" church.

"This would seem to be an affirmation that the spirits are working to make the church truly Catholic, reaching out to all people and embracing all cultures. So it's no longer dominated by a European culture. It's opening up a completely new horizon," he said.

The Rev. James M. Daprile, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Aurora, referred to the former Cardinal Bergoglio's lifestyle.

"He lived in a simple one-room apartment. He cooked his own meals and took public transportation. He is a humble and simple man," Daprile said, adding Pope Francis' first words included a call for prayers. "His work has been as an advocate for social justice and a simple way of life, which commands my attention and respect."

"It is a special joy to us to know that he is a brother Jesuit," said the Rev. Donald J. Petkash, S.J., Vice-President of Mission and Identity at Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls.

Jesuits are members of the Society of Jesus, which was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola. The Jesuits are noted for their scholarship and their history of missionary work, taking Catholicism to India, Japan, China, and South America.

They are also noted as an order of teachers.

"Although I do not know him personally, I am impressed by the reports of his humility, his simple lifestyle, his commitment to the poor and to social justice," Petkash said. "And it is good to know that, as a Jesuit, he has been formed in the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola with its prayerful focus on the life and person of Jesus."

Local pastors also found significance in that the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be named pontiff chose to be called Francis. The name pays tribute to St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscan Order and espoused caring for the poor.

Before that was made clear by the Vatican, the local pastors thought the choice also could honor St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits, and who is the patron of missionaries.

Foster said St. Francis of Assisi is arguably "the second-most respected and loved person of Christianity."

"When Francis of Assisi went to the Holy Land, it was during the crusades, and the Sultan was taken aback by him because here was a Christian European coming to him without armor and without weapons, dressed very simply in a brown robe and desiring only to talk and listen, to proclaim the gospel -- when most other Christians were coming there to conquer."

Pope Francis takes the place of Pope Benedict XVI, who officially stepped down in February at age 85, announcing he was no longer up to the rigors of the job. He became the first pontiff in 598 years to resign.

The new pope is rumored to have been the runner-up to Pope Benedict when he was elected in 2005, but the Rev. John Madden, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Ravenna, said the world will never really know because the ballots are burned after the election.

The Rev. John Hengle, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Tallmadge said he was "wonderfully surprised and shocked at the choice." He thought either cardinals Marc Ouellet of Canada, Angelo Scola of Milan, Italy, or Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, would be elected.

"I think it's fantastic, especially since this is the first time we've had a Pope from the Americas, outside of Europe," he said. "God grant him good health, because he is 76, and the stamina he needs to lead us as a community."

Hengle hopes Francis will work collegially with his brother bishops and take their advice when making decisions that affect the welfare of Catholics in their respective countries.

Hengle also hopes the new Pope will tackle issues the church has faced in recent months and years in a more transparent way, and continue to reach out to the poor and those of the Islamic faith, as well as Pope Benedict's strategy of connecting with the younger generation via social media websites, such as Twitter.

"Hopefully, he might make use of the modern communication to reach out to young adults, young people who are certainly more adept at that," Hengle said.

Editor's note: The Record Courier and reporters Laura Freeman, Conner Howard Howard, Mike Lesko, Holly Schoenstein and Ellin Walsh contributed to this story.

E-mail: emarotta@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9433

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