By BRIAN SMITH
Catholics locally and around the world are celebrating Wednesday’s election of a new Pope.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, chose Francis as his papal name. He will be the first to have the name and is also the first Jesuit to hold the honor. According to CNN.com, the name Francis symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and the rebuilding of the Catholic Church.”
In the eyes of Aledo’s Holy Redeemer Catholic Church Pastor Publius Xuereb, it’s those name-related attributes that will make him a great leader for the church.
“In the first five minutes after he was introduced to the public, he had stolen the hearts of the 1.2 billion Catholics he will be shepherding,” Xuereb said. “What I liked most is the fact he had asked those in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, which in my memory had never been done. It showed a definite sign of humility and personification.”
When asked to pray, many of the crowd, estimated at 250,000, knelt down on the wet ground and did so.
“There was complete silence because of the shock of what he had just asked and then the faithful did so,” Xuereb said.
The new pontiff will be expected to lead the church out of one of its most tumultuous times in history. Sexual abuse scandals in the U.S. and many people leaving the church because of what are considered “old-fashioned” ways have created challenges within the church. Xuereb says it’s not the pontiff’s job to make change, however.
“His job is to strengthen the faith of his flock and to strengthen himself,” Xuereb said. “This man makes you proud to be a Catholic after much of the harrassment that has been going on by the social media and mainstream media over the past few years. He is going to have to try to bring everyone together.”
With Easter considered a time of rebirth by Christians, the election of a new pope two weeks before Easter is perfect timing for the Catholic Church to be turned around, Xuereb said.
Many local parishioners feel the new pontiff, who is 76 years old, has a long road to hoe but feel confident he can do it.
“I like the way he seems very soft-spoken but appears ready to let his actions do his talking for him,” Jane Tomlinson, who attends St. Stephen’s in Weatherford, said. “I think it was a tremendous choice.”
Mark Pulkrabek, a Holy Redeemer parishioner, said he will need to wait a while before having any final say.
“I was under the impression that when John Paul II died, Benedict would be kind of like a fill-in until they could groom someone for the position, so to speak,” Pulkrabek said. “I was expecting someone younger, but they didn’t ask for my opinion.”