Area Catholics praise Pope Francis in first year as leader of church

2013-12-29T19:21:00Z 2013-12-31T00:00:18Z Area Catholics praise Pope Francis in first year as leader of churchElvia Malagon elvia.malagon@nwi.com, (219) 933-3246 nwitimes.com
December 29, 2013 7:21 pm  • 

Though Pope Francis has been the leader of the Catholic Church for less than a year, many Catholics in Northwest Indiana report an overwhelming positive response to the new leadership.

East Chicago resident Alfredo "Pepe" Flores is involved in Northwest Indiana Catholic youth programs and attended the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis last month. Flores, 35, said it seemed like the hundreds of teens in attendance were buzzing about Pope Francis and felt a new sense of energy in the church.

"They feel like the church is being revitalized and they want to be part of that revitalization," Flores said.

The teens aren't the only ones buzzing about Pope Francis. Time magazine and The Advocate named Pope Francis this month their person of the year. CNN/ORC International released poll results last week estimating that as many as 88 percent of American Catholics approve of Pope Francis.

He was chosen in March to lead the Catholic Church after Pope Benedict resigned in February. Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergogolio, is from Argentina and was previously the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires.

At The Shrine of Christ's Passion in St. John, general manager Paul Anderson said it seems like people are genuinely interested in learning more about Pope Francis. He said the shrine's shop sells books about the new pope, holy cards and medals.

"I'm just impressed with the way that he related to everyone," he said. "Protestant ministers have been in here and they are even talking about Pope Francis."

The Rev. Martin Dobrzynski, of St. Michael The Archangel Church in Schererville, said most of the congregation seems to be pleased with Pope Francis. He said there haven't been any major changes within the church and it could be a while before people begin to see how Pope Francis impacts the church.

"He's been working on restructuring the offices in the Vatican," he said. "It won't trickle down to the general person in the pew until much later."

Dobrzynski said Pope Francis has said he wants to make changes to bishops but hasn't released any details of those changes. Those changes could impact Northwest Indiana Catholics because Diocese of Gary Bishop Dale Melczek recently mailed his resignation letter to Rome. Church law requires bishops to resign when they turn 75 years old.

The Rev. Kevin Scalf, who is a chaplain and member of the board of trustees for Bishop Noll Institute, said many students at the school have had informal discussions about Pope Francis in the last couple of months.

Scalf also is the associate pastor for four churches in Whiting. He said parishioners there have expressed support for the pope.

He said many students have said they feel the new pope is approachable and have reaffirmed the church's position on many topics including homosexuality.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis said the church should not judge homosexuals or interfere with their spirituality.

"One's sexual orientation is not a sin," Scalf said. "It's how one uses one's sexuality that becomes a moral problem."

Flores said he thinks the pope is not changing the church's stance on issues but rather saying it in a different light.

"He's able to explain the teachings in a way that everyone understands it now," he said.

Flores said he thinks Pope Francis is leading by example and captivating a younger generation.

"The Catholic Church is in for a beautiful face-lift," he said.

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