When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the Supreme Pontiff under the name Francis on March 13, Catholic churches throughout the Central Valley welcomed him with open arms.
Despite Pope Francis being a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, local pastor Matthew O’Donnell of Turlock’s All Saints Church has rejoiced that a greater range of ethnic diversity will be represented in a leadership role within the church.
“I am really excited that he is the first non-European, and the first from the Latin Americas,” said Father O'Donnell. “That will mean a lot to so many in the United States who have a Latin background, and who can speak the language.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, California hosts approximately 38.1 percent of the Hispanic or Latino population in 2011, compared to the rest of the United States’ 16.7 percent. In California, 43.2 percent of the population speaks two languages, most notably Spanish. Hispanics and Latinos in North and South America are also one of the largest known ethnicities to be a part of the Catholic Church. To have a Pope that speaks a common language in the Americas is both new and exciting for many Spanish speakers.
Father Salvador Jose Ledesma of Turlock’s Sacred Heart Parish leads a Spanish speaking Mass, and believes that church goers of any ethnicity will be happy with the Cardinals’ decision to appoint Pope Francis.
“The Pope doesn’t just rule for one specific area,” said Father Ledesma. “But I have heard or read that one of the concerns of the Church has always been Latin America because the majority of Catholics in the world are concentrated in Latin America. In any case, [the congregation] will be as excited as with any pope that would have been chosen. We welcome Pope Francis with open arms.”
Father Manuel Souza of Our Lady of Assumption believes that Pope Francis will be a great addition to the papacy, and was surprised by many new aspects that correlate with his reign, such as his prior education, his previous offices, and his teachings.
But what caught Father Souza off guard was his new name. Bergoglio chose Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order of Franciscans, a wealthy man who took to poverty to represent the poor.
“I was very surprised when I heard the name Francis. No pope until now has ever had that name and it made a clear statement on his part, that simplicity and humility is going to be key,” said Father Souza. “His teachings are about humility, being in a relationship with the poor, and the centrality of Jesus in our lives. I think that is the right emphasis and I’m very impressed.”
“He is a man of firsts,” Father O'Donnell added. “When I heard what his name was, I remembered what Jesus said to Francis, ‘rebuild my church’ and he thought it was a physical rebuilding, rather it was the inside, the spiritual edification, building up the body of Christ.”
All agree that his demeanor is simple, humble, and intellectual. Unlike other Cardinals, Pope Francis has only been seen in plain papal whites without lace, frills, or even gold. Instead, Francis dons an iron cross that has been worn since he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, and chose a silver ring as his symbol of the papacy rather than a gold one.
Though the pastors are excited to have their new Pope, not all members of the Catholic Church are as ecstatic. Father Souza and Father O'Donnell have both addressed concerns about Francis’ vague past with Argentina’s military when two Jesuits were taken and executed.
“Many don’t think that the Pope has done enough in Argentina to confront military rule,” said Father Souza. “But the Cardinals must have thought that he did quite well there.”
“It is never smooth sailing. He is always under the microscope of the media. They will always scrutinize. I wrote an article this weekend that said to give him a chance because people have already become critical,” said Father O'Donnell. “It is sad because they don’t even know him. This is all new for everybody as to what was going on in Argentina at that time. In time, we’ll get to know the man better.”
Each pastor stated there was more joy than sorrow expressed at the news of Pope Francis’ reign, and they all said they are excited to listen to his latest teachings.