New pope galvanizes local Catholics

April 2, 2013

By Peter Clark

As much of the world knows, Cardinals in the Vatican elected a new pope March 13 and local churches celebrated the news.

Pope Francis, the taken name of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, stands out from the church’s 2,000-year tradition in a number of ways. Not only is he the first to take the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, but he is also the first pope raised from the Jesuit order.

Most notably, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires is the first South American to become the Holy See. Previously, Cardinals elected leaders of the Catholic Church exclusively from European countries.

Founded on traditionalist principles of hierarchy, the Catholic Church has maintained the importance of the papal leadership role. In modern times, questions are still raised on how a new pope affects Catholic followers half a world away. Though local priests and congregants acknowledge the distance to Rome, they all refer to the greater proximity that exists between shared faith and the Catholic Church’s future.

“From all that I’ve seen and heard, I’m very, very pleased with his different style,” said Pastor Kevin Duggan from Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Sammamish about Francis I. “I’m really impressed with what I’ve heard from his simplicity of life and compassion for the poor. It seems to have had a profound impact on his personal witness.”

“I’ve heard about his humility, and all of these small gestures say something about the warmth inside of him,” Father Todd Strange, of St. Joseph Catholic Church and School in Issaquah, said in a separate interview. “I had a great love for Pope Benedict XVI, and Francis will bring a different range of gifts.”

Both of the regional spiritual leaders were engaged by the symbols Pope Francis I had already displayed in the short term of his papacy. There is speculation that he will reside in a smaller, more modest residence than the traditional Papal Apartments in the Apostolic Palace within the Vatican. Also, he shared the Holy Thursday ritual of foot washing, emulating Jesus during the Last Supper, with a dozen inmates in a juvenile detention center.

Duggan said he was enthused by the new pope’s name and actions, recalling both the revered Francis of Assisi, but also the lesser-known missionary St. Francis Xavier.

“Both emphasize a care for the poor and a holiness of life,” he said. “The pope reminds us that all of us must do what we can to help, and I’m hoping his papacy will have an impact on people to help embrace those two parts.”

“For me, as a priest, his example helps to keep me honest and remain doing what I signed up to do.” Strange said. “I think people are excited by what they’ve seen and those who have distance from the church may have cause to reconsider.”

Local Catholics joined to celebrate the new pope, eager to share their hopes for the pontiff.

“It’s the most exciting thing,” said Patrice Cox, administrative assistant at Mary, Queen of Peace. “I can’t even explain it, but I have been trying to get as much information as I can on him.”

Children and Family Minister Mimi Arima said largely the same.

“I’m really hopeful and excited about the radical nature of his witness so far,” she said. “I think he is a great model of service and love.”

“He seems very authentic in how he lived throughout his ministry years,” agreed Kathi Rowley, working in the Sammamish church’s stewardship department. “It does call all of us to look at how we’re living. “

Unsurprisingly, one of the largest supporters of Pope Francis I was another Argentinian. Augustina Eiff moved to America five years ago from Buenos Aires, where she used to regularly attend masses delivered by then Archbishop Bergoglio. Currently attending Mary, Queen of Peace, she said she was unaware that he was in the running for the Papal seat.

“Oh yes, I am very proud,” she said. “He’s a wonderful man and I think a wonderful role model.”

She spoke with glowing words about his reputation within the South American city.

“There was a joke that he could perform bi-location,” she said, meaning he could appear in two places at once. “We said that because he was all over town.”

Eiff responded with such excitement not only because of the national recognition it meant for Argentina, but also because of the example she found in his peace-making ways. Through the divided region from which the new pope hails, she said that he had shown the ability to make inroads and bring people together.

Strange did well to summarize the general sentiment of trust and effusive hope that sprang from local Catholics.

“It’s what we need right now,” he said.





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