Pope Francis of Latin America.
Those few words – his new name, his old home – may offer Catholics and the world a hint about what the new pontiff’s agenda will be as he succeeds retiring Benedict XVI.
A simpler, less regal style than past popes. A greater emphasis on serving the poor. A missionary zeal. And maybe a more pronounced devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
At least that was the view Wednesday from local Catholic clergy and parishioners – including proud Latinos at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic, an immigrant church on Tuckaseegee Road where all the Masses are in Spanish.
First there’s that papal name – Francis – chosen by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina.
Bishop Peter Jugis, whose flock totals 440,000 Catholics in 46 North Carolina counties, said that decision could well be a sign that, like St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, Pope Francis intends to model humility and put a higher priority on the church helping the poor.
“I could see that in Pope Francis’ demeanor as he came out on the balcony,” Jugis told reporters at a Wednesday news conference. “You could just see it in him – this tremendous gentleness and humility. And Francis of Assisi is called the Poor Man of Assisi.”
But, the bishop added, the new pope is a Jesuit, an order of priests that produced another St. Francis.
Another Francis to emulate
St. Francis Xavier was a missionary in the 16th century. That means, Jugis said, that Pope Francis intends to continue the “New Evangelization” effort championed by the last two popes.
“It’s a sign to me,” the bishop said, “that our new Holy Father … is going to vigorously pursue and lead the church in … bringing Jesus to the world once again to many places and many people who maybe once knew Jesus but have forgotten about him or drifted away from him.”
At St. Peter Catholic Church, a Jesuit parish in uptown Charlotte, the Rev. Pat Earl said his “Jesuit ear” also heard the two saints Francis.
“If we take a look at the way (Bergoglio) has been a cardinal in Buenos Aires, his life has been a simple life, and one devoted to the poor,” said Earl, referring to TV news reports that the cardinal took the subway to work, lived in a small apartment and cooked for himself.
That bit of biography – and his new mission to repair a Catholic church struggling with various crises – recalls Francis of Assisi, “who was a man called to rebuild the church (of his time) and also called to live humbly with the poor,” Earl said.
St. Francis Xavier, meanwhile, brought the Gospel to Asia and reached out to different cultures without trying to change them.
“So I would anticipate a papacy,” Earl said, “very concerned with the social mission of the church and one in dialogue with the cultures in which it finds itself.”
One of those cultures is Latin America, home to 39 percent of the world’s Catholics.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe – or Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe – Mexico-born youth minister Juan Cajero, 33, said he expects the 3,000-member congregation will greet the news of the first-ever Hispanic pope with joy.
“If he’s Latin, the Latin people will be happy,” he said.
Church member Camilo Arias, 15, whose family hails from Colombia, said he was surprised that the new pope was also from South America: “It made me proud.”
Bishop Jugis, speaking from St. Patrick Cathedral in Dilworth, where bells rang and Vatican flags flew Wednesday, said the choice of a Latino to be pope may also mean more emphasis on Mary.
“What we can all learn from our Hispanic brothers and sisters is a greater devotion to Our Lady, who always leads us to Jesus,” he said.
Jugis said the cardinals’ decision to look to the Global South, where Catholicism has grown, may mean that the church “takes seriously the signs of the times and wants to address the current challenges in the world.”
The Charlotte bishop also announced the diocese would soon celebrate Masses in three regional locations – Charlotte, the Asheville area and the Triad – to mark the choice of Pope Francis. Details to come.