Jesuit Fr. Jose Moreno was carrying out his usual Wednesday ministry – celebrating Mass for inmates in a Racine prison – at the time Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was announced as Pope Francis.
“I learned when I got back,” Fr. Moreno, pastor of St. Patrick and Our Lady of Guadalupe parishes on Milwaukee’s south side, said. “I was just walking into the office when (the secretary) said, ‘You have a phone call and I will tell you why,’ and then she told me it is because we have a new pope.”
Upon hearing it was the archbishop of Buenos Aries and a Jesuit, Fr. Moreno saw it as a good sign of where the church is going.
“It always encourages us that Europe will be looking at Latin America as a way of saving the church,” he said, adding that Pope Francis can help Latinos become more accepted in parishes nationwide.
“For some Latinos (in the United States) it has been a struggle to go to parishes where they have been rejected,” he said.
As a Jesuit and native of Mexico, Fr. Moreno also feels it is a positive change in the church.
“It is a very important sign that, even though he’s a Jesuit, (the cardinals) decided to vote for him because we Jesuits have a very particular way of approaching religious life,” Fr. Moreno said. “We believe life is with the poor and that’s what he’s doing.”
Since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has presented himself as a humble man of the people. Fr. Moreno said this not only sends a message to parishioners but sends “a message to the cardinals,, too.”
“He’s saying this is the way the church should be; forget about your robes, forget about all your circumstances and your things,” Fr. Moreno said.
'Pushes us to be like Jesus'
For Jesuit Fr. John Halligan, founder of the Working Boys’ Center in Ecuador, the feeling was an “unusual happiness.”
“It wasn’t the same ol’, ‘Hooray, we have a pope’; it was something special,” Fr. Halligan said.
For people in Ecuador, Fr. Halligan said Pope Francis came off as a “people person.”
“It came across as something of a new style of not trying to be superior to the other guy,” Fr. Halligan said. “I don’t think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to allow us to keep screaming at each other about who’s holy and who’s evil. He’s going to be more of a guy who pushes us to be like Jesus.”
Fr. Halligan said Pope Francis’ simple approach is telling of where the church is going.
“The authority of the church is not in the authority of ruling but the authority in reconciling – reconciliation, forgiveness, welcoming each other,” Fr. Halligan said. “And I hope it stays that way.”
Fr. Yamid Blanco, newly ordained associate pastor of St. Francis Borgia Parish, Cedarburg, has been in the United States for six years.
Fr. Blanco, a native of Colombia, said having a pope from Latin America is “what the church needs now.”
“I think the church needs a person from this part of the world,” Fr. Blanco said. “Half of the church is in South America.”
Capable of renewing church
One of the most intriguing parts of the new papacy is the name “Francis,” the first pope ever to choose the name.
“And when they said his name was Francis I thought, ‘Oh, my God,’” said Franciscan Fr. James Gannon, vice president of mission and identity for Cardinal Stritch University, who was watching from the student union. “I was just fascinated by it.”
Fr. Gannon said when he read later why the pope chose that name, he got a good feeling.
“I believe that the few hints that he’s given us, and the words that he’s spoken, his connection with people and he’s taking the church to the poor, that the preferential option was always for the poor,” Fr. Gannon said.
Fr. Gannon, a member of the Order of Friars Minor, hopes that Pope Francis will help mend relationships between the church and people, particularly women.
“I believe our relationships are a little bit strained, especially with the women,” he said. “There has to be a better stance of communication between the bishops and the religious of the world, and I believe as a Jesuit that this man can do it.”
Fr. Gannon said the duality between being a Jesuit and choosing the name “Francis” is an indication of where this pope wants to take the church.
“I believe these two spiritualities, the intellectual approach and then the service approach,” he said. “I truly believe that this man can bring these two together and recreate, renew the church.”
On Saturday, March 16, at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee photos, of Pope Francis were taped to the wall, a temporary placement until framed photos arrive.
At that day’s 4:30 p.m. Mass, parish member Paula Devito said she was surprised when she heard the announcement while ironing in her home.
“I would like him to gather the people to be more united in the Catholic faith, more so than in changes,” she said. “
Devito said “a lot of Catholics” have fallen away from the church, but Pope Francis might be the man to bring them back.
“His charisma, his personality, the way that he looks at things, I think he has a chance,” she said. “I think he can communicate with the people and they understand where he’s coming from.”
On March 17, the first Sunday of the new papacy, parishioners gathered at St. Margaret Mary, Milwaukee, for 9 a.m. Mass, where Brooke Maccanna said she had heard about the pope’s election at school during theater class.
“I think it’s actually pretty cool,” the Rufus King High School senior said. “I’m kind of excited that it’s a non-European pope; it’s something new that I haven’t seen in my lifetime.”
Maccanna said his ideas could help bring people together.
“I was pretty excited,” she said. “I just hope he brings some changes to the church and makes things better than what they are.”