New pope, new hope: Local thoughts on election of Pope Francis
SALISBURY — Father John Putnam, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, wasn’t all that surprised to find out Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, had been elected pope.
“Before the conclave there was a lot of discussion about considering someone outside of Italy or outside of Western Europe,” Putnam said. “I think the decision certainly reflects the broad, international character of the church. Certainly, Argentina is a heavily Catholic country.”
Bergoglio, who chose the papal name Francis, is the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit to rise to the papacy.
Putnam said those traits not only make Pope Francis unique, they could give him leverage to reach more people.
A religious order formerly known as the Society of Jesus, Putnam said Jesuits are known for their teaching and run colleges like Georgetown University and Boston College.
“Obviously, he’s well trained,” he said. “He’s an academic in that sense.”
Putnam said Jesuits take an extra promise of “special obedience to the Holy Father” along with the traditional vows.
“I think his experience in Latin America and the fact that he is a member of the Society of Jesus, which are known to be great missionaries, gives him a much broader outlook in terms of evangelism and spreading the Gospel to all the ends of the Earth,” he said.
Putnam said Francis seems to be a very humble man who deeply cares about the people.
“At least from what I understand, he seems very active in his concern for the poor in Argentina, both spiritually and physically,” he said. “He encourages them to live the faith, but also is not afraid to challenge the government and others on issues of poverty and concern for the basic people.”
Putnam said he’s interested to see how Pope Francis leads the church.
“I think anytime you have a new Holy Father, it’s just a wait and see,” he said. “We will pray for him and do everything we can to encourage and help him as he goes along.”
Sacred Heart member Cris Brincefield said she was impressed by Francis’ first public appearance.
“My first impression of him was his tentative smile as he greeted the crowds in the Vatican square,” she said. “His asking us to pray for him before he gave the papal blessing was a monumental example of his humility and quiet leadership.
“He wanted our prayers for him, how lovely was that?”
Brincefield said she will be praying for Pope Francis as the church enters a new chapter in a long history of faith.
“It appears to me that, having heard and read things about our new Pope Francis, he is humble, holy and kind,” she said. “I’m very excited to follow his leadership.”
Sacred Heart members Susana D’Mello and Liz Tennent said they have been moved to learn about the way Pope Francis humbly lived in Argentina.
“Pope Francis’ humility in his first appearance as the Pope is inspiring,” D’Mello said. “The best testimony is how he has lived his life thus far.
He lived in an apartment and commuted to work by the metro.
“His simplicity and humility show me that he is on the path of holiness.”
Tennent said Francis’ election has been joyful.
“There are three things that are really inspiring to me about our new Pope: the simplicity of his life and pastoral ministry in Argentina, his heart-warming humor as he joked with cardinals and the media (Wednesday) and his genuine humility as he accepted his new role as leader of the Catholic Church,” she said.
Dr. Michael K. Turner, associate professor of the history of Christianity at Hood Theological Seminary, said Bergoglio’s decision to take the name Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi is symbolic of his humility and concern for the poor.
“He devoted his life to getting rid of materialism and living a life of solidarity with the poor,” he said. “I think Pope Francis is symbolically stating that his papacy is going to be characterized by refocusing the church to stand with the poor.”
Turner said when Pope Francis lived in Argentina, he had an apartment instead of living in a palace-like home for the archbishop. He also cooked his own meals and chose to ride public transportation as much as possible.
“The other day he rode the bus with the other cardinals instead of the ‘popemobile,’ ” he said. “I was very impressed after he took office that before he said his first papal blessing, he asked the people to pray for him. That was a deviation from the normal script.”
Turner said he’s heard some academics say the choice of the name Francis could also be symbolic of plans to reach out to the Muslim world.
St. Francis of Assisi had a good relationship with Sultans and prominent Muslim leaders.
“This might be seen as an olive branch to the Islamic world,” Turner said. “That would be fairly radical because it’s something the church has not been all that great about.”
But Turner said people shouldn’t expect to see any radical views from Francis.
“He’s not a liberalist or a radical,” he said. “His beliefs are still very conventional.
“He will affirm the church’s stance on homosexuality and birth control.”
That might be disappointing to some Catholics here in the United States, which make up a fifth of the church’s worldwide membership.
“Some segments of the American Catholic audience want him to be more liberal or progressive, but that will not likely happen,” Turner said.
Brincefield said she’s glad Francis will stand up for the traditions of the church.
“I find it interesting that there is so much talk about the reforms the church needs,” she said. “Our church is over 2,000 years old, and changes do not happen on a whim or because a majority of Americans think change should occur. ... We will always have a preferential option for the poor, we will always hold life sacred from conception to natural death, and we will always be a church dedicated to putting Christ first and sharing the Gospel with all our brothers and sisters.”
Turner said the election of Francis is very intriguing from a historical standpoint.
He expects Francis to appoint more cardinals from the Global South, which includes South America, Asia and Africa.
“By the year 2030, roughly 80 percent of the world’s Catholics will live in the Global South,” Turner said. “Pope Francis will likely be the first in a long line of popes from South America. His election is very symbolic of what’s to come.”
With the redistribution of Catholicism across the world, Turner said the church’s leadership will likely move away from its European roots.
“There’s a long shot chance that Benedict is the last European pope we ever have,” he said.