Selection of Argentine cardinal excites Alle-Kiski Valley priests

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 1:21 a.m.

The Roman Catholic priests of the Alle-Kiski Valley were pleasantly surprised by Wednesday's election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as their new leader.

A month ago, no one could have predicted any of this, said Monsignor James Gaston of St. Margaret Mary Church, Lower Burrell. “This is historic and groundbreaking,” he said. The pope is the first Jesuit priest elected and the first from the Americas.

There also is the precedent that the pope can retire when he believes it's time to do so, he said.Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, marked the first time a non-European man was elected to the Catholic Church's highest position. The Rev. Jim Holland, pastor at Transfiguration Church in West Deer, thinks that the new pope's place of birth makes his election more exhilarating than normal.

“I'm very excited I'll tell you,” Holland said. “To see a pope elected from South America is tremendously exciting.

“It's bordering the historical significance of the election of Pope John Paul II,” he said, referencing the similarities of the election of the first pope from South America to those of the first election of a non-Italian pope in more than 450 years.

Holland said along with Bergoglio being South American, there are other first-time characteristics the new pope brings to the papacy.

“First, he's a Jesuit,” Holland said of the new pope's religious order. “Second, the humility he's taken in choosing the name Francis after Francis of Assisi, a name never chosen by a pope before.

“For those involved in the faith, these are startling.”

According the Population Reference Bureau, an independent polling agency, 83 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean identify themselves as Catholic.

Holland said Bergoglio's experience might signal a movement in the church to appeal to young people.

“He belongs to a group called Communion and Liberation, which was started as a youth movement in Italy,” Holland said. “I think what we've not done well is, we haven't pleaded our case to youth well enough. The church isn't going to change its teaching, but presenting it to the youth as something that's positive is something we need to address.”

The Rev. Ward Stakem, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Winfield, said he thinks Bergoglio's election signals a shift in church demographics.

“I was surprised, but I think it's good because South America has a very large Catholic population,” Stakem said. “It's a movement from the Vatican in Europe to South America.

“The church has a potential for a new beginning,” he said. “Any time we have an election, there is a new individual who has their own way of trying to direct the church.”

Stakem said he was surprised to learn there was white smoke, signifying the election of a new pope, Wednesday afternoon. “I thought it may be something that may move further into the week. It was a little quick,” he said.

The Rev. Joe Keenan, pastor at St. Pio of Pietrelcina Church in Blawnox, said he hopes Bergoglio's selection of Francis as his new name will be significant in the way he governs.

“My first hope is that as a man of prayer and having selected the name of Francis it will be an indication of the spiritual renewal of the church,” he said. “Obviously, for himself, I'm sure there is a personal reason for selecting it. I think St. Francis is a model for him.”

Keenan said he enjoyed with the Bergoglio's remarks to the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square when he was revealed as the pope.

“ I was very impressed by his off-the-cuff remarks,” Keenan said. “ He spoke from the heart, and asked the people to pray for him. The silence that overwhelmed St. Peter's Square was breathtaking,” he added. “It was a very powerful gesture.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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