September 19, 2014

Elyria
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With Francis papacy, local Catholics optimistic for ‘new chapter’

Argentina’s cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, elected Pope Francis, appears Wednesday on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Bergoglio was elected as the 266th pope and will lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. (AP photo.)

Vacationing in Argentina earlier this month, Lorain resident David Arredondo on March 1 toured the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, unaware that it would soon be known as new Pope Francis’ former home.

Arredondo was one of several local Catholics who cheered Wednesday’s election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the Catholic Church’s 266th pope. They praised the choice of the first South American and first Jesuit pope, saying he will better connect with believers in Latin America, home to about 41 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, according to the World Christian Database.

“It’s a new chapter in the Catholic Church,” said Arredondo, director of International Student Services at Lorain County Community College and Lorain County Republican Party co-chairman. “It speaks to the future of the Catholic Church that we are universal and we are worldwide, but our future, at least growth, is going to lie with the people of the Americas and Africa and Asia.”

Unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who spent much of his career working in the Vatican hierarchy in Rome, Bergoglio’s life has been more austere. Locals praised Bergoglio for living in an apartment rather than the church mansion in Buenos Aires and for riding buses and subways and cooking his own meals.

“It’s not always just, ‘Here’s all the doctrines and dogmas that you say yes to.’ It’s a way of living,” said the Rev. Charlie Diedrick of St. Mary’s Church in Elyria. “This man is one who has lived it out in a very experiential way, and that’s going to be the gift he’ll bring to the papacy.”

The symbolism of Bergoglio’s choice of the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century Italian priest who forsook his family’s wealth to live among the poor, was also praised.

Francis also shares a name with Francis Xavier, a Spaniard who became one of Christianity’s greatest missionaries, and was a founding figure of the Jesuit order, of which the new pope is a member.

“It may be a good thing for all the people of the world, especially those who are struggling in poverty,” said Dominick Maldonado, a deacon at Sacred Heart Church in Lorain and program director of the St. Joseph Overnight Shelter in Lorain. “St. Francis was simplistic and down to earth, and I think that would be a good thing for the church.”

Bergoglio has denounced abortion, gay marriage and allowing gays to adopt, and the Rev. William Thaden of Sacred Heart said he doesn’t expect Bergoglio to be a reformer for a church whose reputation has been damaged by the cover-up of a worldwide child molestation scandal. Nonetheless, Thaden said he was excited about the choice given Bergoglio’s background, lifestyle and perspective.

“We celebrate tonight and do so with the joy of knowing that the spirit has led the church to the selection of a new pope,” Thaden told a dozen parishioners at evening mass. “With great anticipation in the works of the spirit we gather.”

While part of the church’s mission is to champion human rights, Bergoglio has been criticized for not denouncing Argentina’s “Dirty War” in which up to 30,000 people were tortured and murdered during the reign of a military dictatorship from 1977 to 1983. While the Argentine church endorsed the dictatorship and didn’t issue an apology until last year, Bergoglio told his biographer he hid people during the dictatorship and helped get two Jesuit priests released, according to The Associated Press.

While some Latin American church leaders have martyred themselves to denounce dictatorships — El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered by right-wing extremists in his church in 1980 — Arredondo said there are limits to what clergy can do. Arredondo noted Pope Pius XII has been criticized for his refusal to condemn the Holocaust and said he believes Bergoglio tried to do the right thing.

“In any society under any government, you do have a delicate balance that the Catholic Church has to adhere to,” Arredondo said. “It was Stalin who said, ‘How many divisions does the pope have?’”

Arredondo and Diedrick said they hope the 76-year-old pontiff will adhere to the principles of Vatican II, the 1960s church edicts which liberalized the way Catholicism is practiced. Diedrick said there needs to be more dialogue on issues like abortion, homosexuality and allowing women to be priests, but he supports the pope’s positions.

“I’m just thrilled with this man,” Diedrick said. “He’s going to be a wonderful inspiration for the church.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.