Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of  Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
March 14, 2013

Francis, the name former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose upon his historic selection as pope Wednesday, speaks much about the leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, says Father Timothy Schott, pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Carroll.

"I'm thrilled we have a pope from South America," Schott said. "I'm thrilled we have a pope who took the name of Francis of Assisi."

Schott said Pope Francis's comments indicate he will give the church direction that's missionary-oriented, evangelical and committed to the poor and involving "less obsession with the issues of the developed nations."

"I think right now the reason I'm excited about it is that's where a lot of creativity is," Schott said.

Nearly four of 10 Catholics in the world are Latino. Argentina itself has the globe's 11th-largest Catholic population.

Francis, the 266th pope, is the first from Latin America, and the only Jesuit, to ascend to the throne of St. Peter.

With the number of Catholics in Central and South America, it's important the pope is from the Americas, said Kuemper Catholic Schools and Serra Club president Vern Henkenius.

"And of course the number of poor, and he's a champion of the poor, and I think that is a very significant move by the College of Cardinals to have somebody from Argentina," Henkenius said. "I think he wants to be one of the people in reaching out to the poor and reaching out to all people. I think his first couple of actions are evidence of that."

Henkenius said the leadership in the Catholic Church today is full of challenges.

"Social issues are creating challenges in the church, and he'll have to work at that," Henkenius said. "Women becoming priests, there are certain factions of the church that will be pushing that, so he'll have to deal with that. And of course there's the abortion issue. It will be interesting to see how he handles those issues, not only reaching out to the poor but also reaching out and solidifying the church in the area of these social issues."

Schott said there much to admire about the inspiration for the pope's decision to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century leader and patron saint of Italy who eschewed wealth and privilege to advocate for the destitute.

"I think the name Francis captures some of that," Schott said. "I think Francis of Assisi was, in terms of his method and his style and his orientation, he was certainly a breath of fresh air, certainly an image of creativity, God's great creativity."

Similarly, with Pope Francis, Schott expects to see an elevation of the church's central mission in the world's eyes.

"I think we're getting some clue that this pope is going to turn us to the needs of the world rather than to the maintenance of the church," Schott said.

Father Paul Kelly, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Denison, more than most Iowa Catholic Church leaders, understands the impact of the selection on the state's growing Latino community, comprised of many active Catholics.

"I think given the fact that there were several firsts involved with this pope adds to the excitement," Kelly said. "First from the Americas is certainly an exciting thing for a lot of the Latino population who certainly can rejoice with a pope who has Spanish as his first language."

Kelly, who has served in the Latino-rich St. Rose of Lima Parish for seven years, says he's sensing exuberance from his parish. He's eager for a 6:30 p.m. Mass today.

"The fact that this man comes from a Spanish-speaking country in Latin America, I just think that's going to boost them tremendously," Kelly said of his Latino parishioners.

Kelly said the selection of Francis as pope by the 115 cardinals reflects the shift of the demographics of Catholicism from European domination to Latin America.

Kelly said Francis is clearly a humble man who understands the challenges of poverty at the street level - not just in detached academic sense.

"Latin America as a whole has got some very serious poverty issues that we perhaps don't see in Europe, certainly in the United States," said Kelly, who previously pastored St. Augustine in Halbur, Holy Angels in Roselle, Annunciation in Coon Rapids and St. Elizabeth Seton in Glidden.

Kelly said nation of origin is just one element in the makeup of the man who leads his church.

"The fact that I think he's more of a people person would bode well for him," Kelly said.