Pope Francis' everyday ways inspire Uniontown seminarian studying in Rome

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 11:10 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — Anthony Klimko had been “looking for a holy man who leads by example through his words and deeds.”

Klimko, 38, of Uniontown found two.

Benedict XVI, a pope who “really taught the faith,” inspired him to become a priest, Klimko says. And now Pope Francis is showing him and others how “to understand and live the faith.”

A bald man with an easy smile, Klimko wears the black garments and clerical collar of a seminarian at Pontifical Gregorian University here.

He stood with thousands on Wednesday in St. Peter's Square — an experience he describes as “surreal” — when the Roman Catholic pope was introduced. The next day, he was impressed that Francis “took an ordinary car to Mary Major (Church), then he went to pay a hotel bill.”

“That just shows how his papacy will lead,” Klimko said, by demonstrating “how doing normal-day things shows holiness.”

Francis, the first New World pontiff, maintained his warm, unassuming manner on Saturday while meeting many of the 6,000 journalists from 81 countries covering his election.

To laughter, cheers and applause, the new pope told reporters that his was “an unexpected announcement,” adding: “You really worked hard, didn't you?”

He revealed some of the direction he favors for the church and its 1.2 billion followers.

Francis said that when the cardinals' voting turned in his favor, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes “gave me a hug and a kiss and said, ‘Don't forget the poor.'

“Then right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted till the end — Francis is also the man of peace,” he said, explaining how he chose his papal name.

“I would like a church that is poor and for the poor,” he said.

The pontiff remained true to the spirit of Francis, the patron saint of animals, in remarks he made when meeting a handful of journalists after the news conference.

Alessandro Forlani, a visually impaired reporter for Italian radio, approached the pope with his guide dog.

“I asked for a blessing for my wife and daughter at home,” Forlani said later. The pope “added ‘a blessing for the dog, too' and bent down to bless it.”

Klimko, who lives at the Vatican's Pontifical North American College, said the name was highly symbolic, and he has “a really good feeling in my heart about Pope Francis.”

The road to Rome has been long for Klimko.

“I thought about it for years — it would come and go as I was in high school and college,” then working in Pittsburgh for 12 years as a graphic designer, he recalled as he sat near the great stone colonnades of St. Peter's Square.

The priesthood's dwindling numbers, especially in the United States and Europe where churches have been rocked by scandal, does not worry him, Klimko says. The seminary he attends is filled to capacity with 265 students and “full of life and energy, full of faith,” and he expects the new pope to help rebuild the church.

“In everything that I gave up, which was a lot, I have gained so much more,” Klimko said. “I am living and studying in Rome. I am blessed to do it.

“I was here for a very historic moment in the church's history — that is huge.”

And when his studies end, Klimko hopes to work in the Diocese of Greensburg.

“All I want to be is a good and holy priest and share the faith with everyone around me the best that I can,” he said.

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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