Area leaders see hope in Pope Francis

S. American cardinal was little known locally

Bishop Leonard P. Blair of the Diocese of Toledo says the Pope Francis’s election is particularly significant for Latin Americans. Because Francis was a bishop of a very large diocese, he has much experience that should serve him well in the huge tasks that he faces in his new post, the bishop says.
Bishop Leonard P. Blair of the Diocese of Toledo says the Pope Francis’s election is particularly significant for Latin Americans. Because Francis was a bishop of a very large diocese, he has much experience that should serve him well in the huge tasks that he faces in his new post, the bishop says.

Strictly by chance, Msgr. William J. Kubacki, rector of Toledo’s Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral and the Diocese of Toledo’s vicar for priests, was in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement of the new Pope.

“We have a pilgrimage with 27 people from around the diocese that were in the Holy Land last week and were in Rome this week,” he said.

Trip planning began about 18 months ago.

“We were among the mass of people along the square, and we were there about two hours before they announced a new Pope,” Msgr. Kubacki said. “You saw the global aspect of the church present there.”


PHOTO GALLERY: Cardinal Bergoglio becomes Pope Francis

When the group saw smoke coming from the chimney that signals a papal vote had been held, “The smoke at first looked like it was black, and then it turned white,” he said.

Then the Toledo group waited, “right in the middle of the piazza; we were standing right by the obelisk” and near a large television screen until Pope Francis’ first appearance.

“When he was announced, it was very interesting. It was kind of like a silence in the square because I’m not sure many people recognized his name,” the monsignor said. “Personally, I did not know who he was, and as we stood in the square there, we Googled his name and found out who he was.”

Regardless of the way his group learned details about Francis, he said, “It’s a very exciting time for the church worldwide, and I look forward to having him as our shepherd. I really feel that the cardinals looked at the global church, and my thinking is that he has been very prominent with regards to evangelization and being a true pastor.”

Closer to Toledo, Catholics had positive reactions to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio being elected Pope Francis, and they expressed appreciation for the new Pope’s concern for social justice.

Bishop Leonard P. Blair, leader of Toledo’s diocese, noted Francis’ election was particularly significant for Latin Americans. Bishop Blair also indicated the new Pontiff would have a great deal of work ahead of him.

“It’s no secret that there’s a lot of talk in Rome about the need to make some changes in the Roman Curia, and in that sense, I think that the fact the new Pope was a bishop of a very large diocese ... I think that will serve him very well for the sake of the Diocese of Rome and also for the sake of the central administration,” the bishop said.

Bishop Blair said he does not think he has met Francis.

At Lourdes University, “We gathered as a university and watched it on TV,” said Sister Shannon Schrein, chairman of the theological studies department. “He has a pastoral face, doesn’t he? That sense of being welcoming.”

Sister Shannon said she hopes Francis will “bring us together pastorally and teach us about social justice and care for the poor. It’s time for the church to expand its understanding of the world in a broader way.”

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, vice president for Jesuit identity at St. John’s Jesuit High School and Academy, said “a lot of precedence has been broken today” by cardinals selecting a Jesuit from Argentina.

“That view from another world outside of Europe will also affect Toledo,” Father Doyle said. “As a Jesuit, [Francis] would certainly [operate] in the direction of social ministry, the social dimension of the church, and social dimensions of Catholics today.”

Seeing “the simplicity of the man and judging by his glowing smile, he’s going to be very popular,” Father Doyle said.

Sister Jackie Doepker of the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin said, “To see somebody who stands for simplicity and understands the poor has been elected as Pope and seems to be a very humble type of person, I think everybody feels that this could be a breath of fresh air, I think, a time of calling people to a deeper simplicity and prayerfulness. We are hopeful that he will unite the church and move us forward.”

Sister Joan Jurski, director of Franciscan spirituality experiences for the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, said, “I think it’s great that he’s an order priest, a Jesuit. On the other hand, he certainly brings, to me, a Franciscan heart.”

Sister Theresa Darga, the Sylvania Franciscan sisters’ assistant congregational minister, said Francis “really has a compassionate heart for the poor. I think that through his lifestyle, he has symbolized that compassion.”

She drew a parallel to St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis “heard the words, ‘Rebuild my church,’ ” she said. “For Francis, he thought that that meant physically rebuild the church, but it was deeper than that: Rebuild among the people, within the people.”

Sister Theresa said she hopes that Pope Francis will similarly rebuild the Roman Catholic Church.

“We’ve made a shift away from when it was always an Italian [pope], and now we’ve gone off the European map to South America,” said the Rev. John Extejt, vice president of St. Francis de Sales High School and a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. “I think it certainly says something about where the church sees itself regarding where the majority is, and South America is certainly one of those centers. I think that’s a tremendous shift” for the church.

The Rev. Beverly Bingle, a Catholic who leads the Holy Spirit Catholic Community, said Pope Francis’ election will not “open anything right away” about change in the church, “but I think it goes in the right direction of what the church ought to be doing. If he does in Rome what he did in Argentina, it will be phenomenal, a sea change in terms of how the hierarchy operates.”

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact TK Barger,419-724-6278, or on Twitter @TK_Barger.