Surprise and hope are the initial reactions to the choosing of a new pope from three local Catholic representatives.
Jorge Bergoglio, 76, of Argentina was elected pope Wednesday, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He chose the name Francis, also a first.
Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. John’s, Martin Currie, says his age was something of a shock.
“I thought it might have been a younger man, but his background seems that he might be very, very concerned for the poor.”
Bergoglio, the longtime archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the son of middle-class Italian immigrants and is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed.
He often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital.
He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
“Perhaps that’s what we need at this time — that we’re going to show a deep care for the poor rather than for many of the intellectual pursuits and other things,” says Currie.
Sister hopes Pope will lead church into 21st century
The Archbishop is also quick to point out that Bergoglio’s age should not be taken as a disadvantage, even though it may have come as something of a surprise. He points out that Pope John XXIII was 78 when he was chosen and he brought about the second Vatican council, considered a large and welcome change by many.
Father Paul Lundrigan of St. Kevin’s Parish, Goulds, also points to Pope John XXIII as an example of a man who came into the papacy as an elder and brought about sweeping changes.
“Pretty exciting” is how describes the choice of Bergoglio.
An older man may be entrenched in views but that can be a good thing, says Father Lundrigan.
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, because some of his views are very good.”
Lundrigan points to the new pope’s commitment to a simple life and his identifying with the poverty stricken as positives.
“He might transform the church in his own way because of his love for the poor,” says the Archbishop, adding he hopes the new pope is a man of the people.
Lundrigan sees other good points in the new pope, as well. In addition to his human rights record, he says Bergoglio hasn’t been tainted by a lot of the scandals that have affected the Catholic church. He says while Bergoglio is familiar with the Roman system, he’s not very closely attached to it.
“All that’s sort of a positive thing, as well,” he says.
Lundrigan does see things that will disappoint some people, though. He says Bergoglio apparently has strong views about gay rights that will not coincide with the more liberal followers, and despite that same-sex marriage was legalized in the Pope’s home country of Argentina, he was on the record as opposing it.
There’s also the ordaining of women, which Bergoglio’s opposes, according to Father Lundrigan.
“That’s going to disappoint some people, as well,” he says.
Sister Elizabeth Davis has hopes Pope Francis will come around in this regard.
“We do hope he hears the cry of women, because we need to know that we are full members of our church. And we hope that he reaches out to other Christian churches and other world religions as companions on this journey through life.”
Davis is the former chief executive officer of the Health Care Corporation of St. John’s and is a Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland.
“I think the first thing everybody would have to say is it’s a surprise,” she says of the choice of pope.
Davis says Bergoglio’s was not a name that had been raised. She says the fact that he is not European, and that he is the first pope to choose the name Francis, gives her hope.
“We hope this signals this Pope will be a pope who will lead us in ways that we hope our church will go in this 21st century,” she says.
Davis is particularly pleased in the Pope’s heritage because they have sisters who work in Peru. She says having a pope who comes from that part of the world and understands the challenges facing the South American people is a great thing. She says his humble support for the poor also impresses her.
“That’s very important I think in our world today, and we all have hopes now because this is a new moment in our church.”
Sister Davis says she hopes a commitment to a humble lifestyle will define his papacy. She is also optimistic that Pope Francis will open the doors of the Catholic church and make people feel welcome who currently may not.
Wise leadership in diversity is what’s needed, she says.
Lundrigan says he feels Pope Francis will serve the people well. When he walked onto the balcony on Wednesday, he says, he didn’t raise his hands to bless the people but bent from the waist asking the people to bless him.
“Symbolically, that was huge. That was a huge sign. His first act was to bow to the people and say ‘I need your blessing to do this work,’ which I would hope suggests he’s open towards listening to people.”
This is what Father Lundrigan says he was hoping for in a new pope all along.
“I never expected that there would be sweeping changes in the church coming from on high this day in age.”
The movements will come from the ground, he says. They’ll initiate in Roman Catholic parishes all over the world.
“And what’s needed on top was somebody who would be willing to listen us.”
Francis will celebrate his first mass as Pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially as Pope on Tuesday, according to Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
With files from The Associated Press