Classes stopped at St. Timothy Catholic School in Mesa for a few moments last week as students and staff watched televisions, awaiting for the announcement of a new pope.
Across the East Valley, many praised the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio for his humility and the hope he brings to Catholics worldwide.
Now known as Pope Francis, his selection occurred Wednesday, the second day of the conclave brought together to name a new pope after the resignation last month of Pope Benedict XVI.
Manda Poffel, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Timothy Catholic Church, said there is “excitement” among the young people she’s talked to about Pope Francis.
“They are excited about his humility,” she said. “On Facebook and in pictures, they see him taking the bus with the other cardinals. They hear about him getting an apartment instead of living in the bishop’s palace in Argentina … They’re excited to see what he’s going to do with that.”
St. Timothy’s Joe Cady, who directs adult formation for the church, agreed there is a lot of excitement with the new pope, but he noted a belief that a new pope doesn’t necessarily mean new doctrine for the church.
“I think a lot of people think with the new pope there will be massive changes. But I think people misunderstand the role of the pope. He’s the one that’s entrusted with the 2,000 years of tradition. He’s not the master of it. He’s the steward. I don’t think we should expect sweeping changes doctrinally. What’s exciting about this pope is he seems to be both a humble and prayerful man, but also very focused on orthodoxy and service and outreach and compassion. I think what’s really exciting is he has the ability to reach out to some unfortunately divided segments of the church and hopefully ride a middle ground to unite people and bring people together,” Cady said.
William J. Carroll, president of Benedictine University, said there is a “wow factor” in the naming of this pope.
Benedictine is the first Catholic University to open in Arizona. Classes begin this fall on its Mesa campus.
“There’s a lot of firsts with this pope,” Carroll said by phone in Illinois. “I think there is a wow factor going on here. We all talked about the possibility of a non-European pope. For it to happen is part of that wow factor.”
Carroll also pointed out that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to lead the Catholic Church. Pope Francis comes from Latin America, where nearly 40 percent of the Catholic population resides, Carroll said.
“He has a master’s degree in chemistry. He’s liked by liberals and conservatives, plus he’s known for his compassion for the people,” Carroll said.
Carroll acknowledged that Pope Francis has a “tough job” in front of him.
“He has a church in turmoil right now in terms of the sexual scandals. You have a shortage of priests in some parts of the world. You have the ongoing issue of women in the church. You have a European church clearly on the decline, a Latin American church on the incline and an American church in limbo,” he said.
Carroll said he believes the church is going in a new direction with Pope Francis.
“It looks like the cardinals are moving toward some kind of change in the church. It’s not business as usual in this new pope. This confirms that,” he said.
During a press conference Wednesday after the conclave, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix shared his thoughts on Pope Francis.
“What is significant about this election is we have someone from what we call the ‘New World.’ So America now has a pope,” he said, adding that Pope John Paul II referred to “America” as one group with Canada, the United States, Central and South America all tied together.
Olmsted also addressed Pope Francis’ background.
“I think it’s natural that anyone whose first language is Spanish, like many who live here in the Diocese of Phoenix, that they will take a certain sense of pride and gratitude and almost a sense of, ‘This is our pope,’ and I think that is a good thing and healthy thing.”
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