There was a lot of excitement for Catholics this week, after Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the 266th pope and took the name Francis.
“There are quite a number of firsts with the election of this Pope,” said Father Gerry Bauche, parish priest of St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis is the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.
“This is very exciting,” said Marilyn Schuck, president of the Catholic Women’s League of Weyburn. “Pope Francis seems like he will be able to reform the Catholic church and that he will be a unifying force for all the Catholics in the world.”
“I understand that Pope Francis is a down-to-Earth kind of guy, and that will be good for the church,” said Ron Klein, Faithful Navigator of the fourth degree assembly for the Knights of Columbus of Weyburn.
“The lifestyle of Pope Francis is that of a servant, and he is a very simple man,” said Bauche. “One of the first things he did was to ask for the people to help and favour him with prayer.”
When Pope Francis took to the balcony on Wednesday afternoon, he referred to himself as the bishop of Rome and to Benedict XVI not as retired pope, but emeritus bishop.
Also different from tradition, instead of accepting the cardinals’ congratulations while seated on the Papal throne, Pope Francis received them standing.
Even the selection of his name seemed appropriate. St. Francis of Assisi is revered among Catholics for his work with the poor.
Bergoglio, age 76, is the son of Italian immigrants, and he spent nearly his entire career in Argentina, often visiting slums in and around his hometown of Buenos Aires and offering his support to the less fortunate.
“When you look at his own life, Pope Francis was a champion for the poor, and I think this will bode well for the church,” said Schuck.”The crowds at St. Peter’s Square were very excited when his name was announced.”
While Pope Francis had a lot of humility in taking office, Bauche still believes he will be an excellent spokesperson for the church. “We shouldn’t confuse humility for being a wallflower.”
Pope Francis has spoken up against poverty and economic inequality, he supports the Aparecida Document and human rights, and has written books on spirituality and meditation.
“Pope Francis will face many of the same struggles that the church has dealt with in the past few years,” said Bauche.
One of the biggest issues facing the Catholic church is the erosion of faith, especially in regards to younger people. “What was interesting to see was that there were so many youth in St. Peter’s Square,” said Bauche.
“There is a lot that the church will have to do to clean up the past, before we move into the future,” said Klein. “The erosion of faith is happening everywhere in the world, even faithful countries are losing their people.”
One factor in the erosion of faith, and another issue for the church and new pope to face, will be the sexual abuse cases filed against some Catholic priests and higher authorities.
For alleged victims, much depends on whether Pope Francis disciplines the priests and the hierarchy that protected them.
Last month, Benedict became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign.
During the 2005 conclave, when Benedict was elected, it was reported that Cardinal Bergoglio had the second-highest number of votes on each of the four ballots.
The official inauguration of Pope Francis was held during mass at St. Peter’s on Tuesday.