Installation of Pop Francis celebrated by Lower Valley church leaders

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Catholic school students celebrated the installation of Pope Francis on Tuesday with a day off school.

Religious leaders, too, throughout the Lower Valley appear to already have an affection for the new Holy Father — even without an excused day off.

“I'm very excited,” said the Rev. Thom Miller, pastor of St. Joseph Church in O'Hara, of the appointment of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires to leader of the Catholic Church.

“I'm surprised they picked a guy 76 years old, since most people are retiring by that age. But I really think he's ready for the job,” Miller said, adding with a laugh, “I guess it takes me out of the running.”

Pope Francis, who has spent nearly his whole career in Argentina, is the first non-European pope in a century. He was elected last week after the resignation of Pope Benedict, who also made news for being the first to leave the job in 600 years.

Pope Francis is also the first Jesuit and the first named Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, a friar who is famed for helping the poor.

Miller said the choice of name couldn't be more appropriate, because the new pope is said to be humble and shows a desire to be among the people.

“They couldn't have picked a better person,” Miller said. “He doesn't have a big bold cross, just a simple one that he used as Bishop of Buenos Aires. He's just so simple.

“He gave up his mansion for a small apartment. He rides with people in buses,” Miller said.

“He told people he wanted mercy and compassion shown to people and I think we will see something marvelous from this.”

The Rev. Joe Keenan, pastor of St. Pio Pietrelcina, said he also is elated with the choice of new pope.

Keenan gets a sense that Pope Francis is a down-to-earth man, he said.

“I am delighted with the choice of his name,” he said.

“There are personal reasons for selecting the name and it indicates the kind of pastor he will be.

“I think he's a heartwarming fellow who will do tremendous work for the world.”

Miller noted that prior to Pope Francis giving his first blessing to the public, he asked that they all bless him.

“We really see the kind of man he is,” Miller said. “The doctrine won't change but the tone, flavor and resonance will.”

Miller said people should be grateful to Pope Benedict for being wise and kind enough to retire if his health couldn't sustain the demands of the role.

Bishop David Zubik, of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, announced that Catholic schools would close on Tuesday in honor of the new pope's installation and invited all people to join in prayer that day to celebrate.

“Our new Holy Father brings with him the experience of a dedicated pastor who has served the church so well,” Zubik said.

“That experience, and the rock-steady faith that has guided him, will be his comfort and strength in the challenging days ahead.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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