Region reacts to new pope selection

2013-03-13T19:39:00Z 2013-03-15T00:36:04Z Region reacts to new pope selectionTimes Staff
March 13, 2013 7:39 pm  • 

Habemus papam. In English, "We have a pope." 

From selecting the name Francis — after the humble St. Francis of Assisi — to asking the Catholic faithful to pray for him moments after being introduced Wednesday as the new leader of the Catholic Church, 76-year-old Pope Francis began setting the tone for his papacy.

“I think it was significant that, before he gave the blessing to the people, he bowed his head and asked the people to pray for him,” said Diocese of Gary Bishop Dale Melczek.

Melczek, who never has met Jorge Bergoglio, said the new pope has a reputation for showing love to the poor and concern to those living in developing nations. He is known for his intelligence, humility and personal modesty.

“Even as cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, he chose to live in a simple apartment, rather than in the archbishop's palace,” Melczek said. “He regularly took the bus to work and made his own meals, which says a lot to me about his simplicity.”

He is not known for delving into politics.

“As a superior of the Jesuits years ago, he was known for having the Jesuits keep focusing on their charism and not get involved in political things,” Melczek said.

But the new position may force him into that arena.

“I'm sure he will not hesitate to address the moral aspects of the political issues at hand,” Melczek said. “He knows his role is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and the truths that are in the Gospel. I'm sure Pope Francis is going to stand firm on the teachings of Jesus and not bow to the popular pressures.”

Although it is significant the new pope is the first from South America and the first Jesuit, Melczek does not think those were the reasons the new pope was selected.

“Over the past week, the cardinals had been meeting twice a day to identify the needs of the world and the needs of the Church,” Melczek said. “I think they chose him, not just because he's a Jesuit and not specifically because he is Argentinian, but because he has the qualities to reach out and announce and proclaim the Gospel to the universal Church. 'Catholic' means 'universal,' and they were looking for someone who could bring the hope of the Gospel and the love of Christ to people across the globe.”

The Rev. Patrick Lyons, pastor at Our Lady of Knock parish in Calumet City, said the fact that Pope Francis is a relatively unknown cardinal may be good for the Catholic Church.

"I'm surprised he's not among the names I recalled as one of the frontrunners, and I think that's good," Lyons said. "Sometimes the popular ones are the political ones, so my hope is this is less a political choice and more a spiritual choice."

Lyons said it's significant the new pope has taken on the name Francis.

"My first thought is the prayer of peace that we say to St. Francis, peace for a variety of situations, the bullying that goes on in schools both physical and verbal and the violence that goes on in our streets," Lyons said. "The people are not at peace; they want to go to war. There is a lack of peace and nothing much gets done politically."

Lyons surmised church leaders wanted to make a statement by choosing a Latin American pope.

"They took a look at the possible candidates and maybe they were just trying to say maybe it's good for people to see something good and alive in the church instead of the same old, same old."

Temple Beth-El Rabbi Leonard Zukrow said he applauded the cardinals choosing a pope from Latin America.

“It's a big step forward for the church to acknowledge where their growth is taking place,” Zukrow said. “I hope that is a sign of forward thinking of the church to be responsive to where its people are, and I welcome the new pope with great anticipation.”

The Rev. Aleksandar Savic, of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, said the pope seems to be a good fit to lead the Catholic Church.

“What they say about him is he's in the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church, which means he is educated, and they say he is very modest,” Savic said. “I believe because of that, it's a very good election (for the church.)”

Savic said his one concern is he doesn't know a lot about the the pope's past, or the pope's role in Argentina during the 1970s when the country fell into a period of violence known as the “Dirty War.”

Dan Lowery, Calumet College of St. Joseph president, said the pope selecting the name of Francis is a powerful statement to the entire world because St. Francis embraced poverty as a deep part of his spirituality.

“The trappings of high office he doesn't appear to put great stock in that," Lowery said. "It sounds like he's a man whose life has been a witness to the best values of the church and that's codified in the selection of the name Francis."

Mel Piehl, dean of Christ College at Valparaiso University, said the choice of the Latin American cardinal was in one sense a surprise.

"There was substantial speculation that the cardinals and the church at large were looking to expand their reach of the papacy into non-European and nonindustrialized parts of the world," Piehl said.

"Nevertheless, it still is a dramatic breakthrough in that regard," Piehl said. "There's never been a pope from outside of Europe. There's a lot of excitement that it is someone from Latin America, where the church has been so strong for so many centuries yet never been recognized in the same way as other parts of the church."

In taking a special oath to the pope, Piehl said Jesuits already are very dedicated to the papacy. There has been a reticence to appoint one as head of the church being the order is already seen as an elite within the church.

Yet the pope is a traditionalist, like many Latin American bishops and cardinals, Piehl said.

"I would not expect any change on the controversial issues like a married priesthood or the ordination of women," he said.

The Rev. Kevin McCarthy, pastor of the St. Teresa Catholic Student Center at Valparaiso University, called the new pope "a very pastoral man."

"He has a great relationship with both sides of the Catholic Church," McCarthy said. "That's somebody we need to take us through this transitional time."

At Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, senior Jose Arteaga was cleaning up after performing in a school play when an alert from CNN popped up on his cellphone about the new pope.

"It was nice to see a non-European pope," he said. "So I think that's great for our church."

His friend, senior Sergio Valdes, also was excited and thinks the new pope will bring a different perspective to the church because he is from South America.

Beth Maio, a senior at Bishop Noll, said she learned the news from Arteaga. Her theology class struggled to live stream coverage and gathered around her teacher's laptop to see the new pope.

"I was really excited," Maio said. "It's a moment in history I got to experience myself."

Arteaga and Maio said they don't expect the new pope to implement any major changes overnight. Maio wants the pope to travel more, and Valdes said he would like to see him connect to people more.

In the school's parking lot, Rita Pankowski, 81, was waiting for her granddaughter.

Pankowski said she has spent the past couple of weeks every morning watching the news about the pope. She would like the new pope to bring a younger generation, such as her grandchildren, to the church.

"I would like to see him doing the right things," she said.

Times staff writers Susan Brown, Chelsea Schneider Kirk, Jeanette Lach, Elvia Malagon and Vanessa Renderman contributed to this report.

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