Lee’s Summit Catholics are hopeful their new pope will be the leader for a challenging time.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, was voted to the papacy by a conclave of cardinals in the Vatican March 13. The first Jesuit pope has chosen to be called Francis I and is a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Fr. Michael Clary of the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Lee’s Summit said Pope Francis made a good first impression during his first address following his election. He said he appreciated that Francis was from the Americas (the first) and his humility.
“I appreciated the time the asked to people to pray for him,” Clary said. “Those are signs he’s good for our church.”
He said the Catholic Church suffers from declining membership in America because of fallout from sex abuse scandals. Clary said he hopes Francis will help with strong leadership from the Vatican on that issue.
News reports from the New York Times and Washington Post said Francis is expected to be conservative when it comes to doctrine. He opposes gay marriage, for example.
However, he’s also known as a strong advocate for the poor and economic justice, for equally sharing resources. His lifestyle in Argentina was low-key and eschewed the perks of his office. He chose to ride the bus, dispensing with the limousine, and in a modest apartment, cooking his own meals.
He survived dictatorships in Argentina, some critics of the church said its leaders were too cozy with dictators as thousands were murdered and children sometimes abducted. Francis was a leader of clerics who apologized for not being stronger in their opposition to those dictators during the 1970s.
Fr. Robert Stewart, of another Lee’s Summit Catholic Parish, St. Margaret of Scotland, said he wouldn’t have expected a choice who didn’t have a conservative leaning. He said he believes Pope Francis can be successful because of his church leadership experience and as an intellectual, as a Jesuit, and empathy to connect with the church’s members and even those of other faiths.
“I’m pleased,” Stewart said. “Francis seems like he will be a very good pope.”
Stewart said that living a Christian life has its ups and down, but a pastor needs to “walk” with parishioners and the pope is chief pastor, and he thinks Francis will have that quality.
“I’m looking for him to encourage them…encourage people to be the best they can in a loving community,” Stewart said. “He is approachable and not haughty, that’s a wonderful attribute for a pastor, especially a pastor as a pope.”
He said the choice is also a good one because is familiar with the Vatican and can govern, but also coming from South America it gives him “universal” experience, not just European, which is important because the Catholic Church’s growth areas are on that continent, Africa and Asia. Forty percent of the world’s Catholics reside in South America.
Clary commented that a pope’s choice of a name speaks to who they are.
Bergoglio is the first pope to choose to be called after St. Francis of Assisi, (1181-1226), who is revered by many for his life of poverty, as a preacher and reformer and the kinship he felt with nature. He is the patron saint of animals and the environment.
“The choice of Francis was interesting and a good sign,” Clary said.