Area Catholics pleased with selection of new pope

Pontiff seen as 'humble' leader for 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.

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 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.

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.

"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.

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. Ed 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."

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

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