Area Catholics seem both united in their excitement about and impressed with the humility of the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, who was elected to the papacy Wednesday in Vatican City.
Rotonda West resident Kathy Altenburg was excited about the new pontiff.
“I think it’s great that it was a quick selection,” said Altenburg, who attends St. Francis of Assisi Church in Grove City. “He seems like a wonderful man. I’m thrilled he chose Francis as his name.”
“I think it’s an excellent choice,” said Claudette Romano, also a Rotonda West resident. “I hope he brings stability and cohesiveness between the churches.”
When the Rev. Teofilo Useche left the rectory at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in Port Charlotte on Thursday morning, he felt a few flecks of rain and wind on his face and was instantly reminded of Iguazu Falls in Argentina. To Useche, it was a sign that an important new shepherd had been chosen to guide the church.
It was no surprise to Useche that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinian from Buenos Aires, was selected as the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years — and the first member of the Jesuit order to lead the church.
“He will have positive influence because he will help develop sensitivity toward the vast diversity of the nations in America,” said Useche, a native of Venezuela. “It proves the world continues to bring about change — this is history in the making.
“We danced the polka for a while, but now it’s time to learn the tango,” he added.
Useche said the Jesuits were known for their missionary work in the heart of the South American jungle. He said Bergoglio likely has an appreciation for nature, but since he grew up in the Buenos Aires metropolis, can also identify with residents in large cities who commute to work every day on the bus.
“He is not afraid to share a cup of mate (a traditional Argentinian tea) with strangers,” Useche said.
Edison Gibbons, a native of Ecuador and St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioner, believes Bergoglio, who chose the papal name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, will put more focus on the poor.
“Choosing the name … Francis is significant,” Gibbons said. “He has come at a time when the church was afflicted with hierarchy for many years, and Francis feels no one should be excluded.”
DuBois Andrews of Port Charlotte, who attends St. Maximilian Kolbe, said Bergoglio will be a good pope because he has done great things in the past. However, his wife, Pauline, was skeptical.
“I want to wait and see before forming an opinion,” she said.
Edith Subasic works as parish nurse at San Pedro Catholic Church in North Port, but is also a member of St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte. “I think (Francis’ papacy) is going to go very well because he’s going to be able to get the Vatican state in order,” she said. “We need someone who is intelligent, which he is, and humble. …He asked everyone in the entire (St. Peter’s) square to pray for him.
“He came in second in the last conclave,” Subasic continued. “This has all transpired within the years where we’re able to see this happening: John Paul II, Benedict (XVI) and the fact that he retired, and now another person coming in. It gives you perspective. … You have this process, and you can see the wisdom. (Pope Francis) is not going to change things, but he has to deal with the scandals.”
Basil Correale and Martin Mainieri, chatting in the San Pedro parking lot after morning Mass on Friday, both agreed the College of Cardinals chose the right man for the job. The two approved of his humility and choice of name as well.
“And he happens to be Italian!” Mainieri said, grinning. “We’re Italian!” Although he was born in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis’ parents were Italian. Correale said being the leader of more than a billion Catholics is a difficult job.
“(He) needs to correct a lot of things,” he said, referring to priest sex abuse scandals. “What they’ve done is a poor representation of the Catholic Church. … They should be excommunicated, even though I know it’s difficult to get priests.”
Mainieri hoped the new pope will be a little more transparent.
“He should be a little more open to the people,” he said. “Be what Christ taught: ‘Love your neighbor.’”
Staff writers Merab-Michel Favorite and Tom Chang contributed to this report.