Pope Francis impresses local Catholics | TheUnion.com

Pope Francis impresses local Catholics

Tom Durkin
Special to The Union

Nevada County Catholics are embracing the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church "with great joy and great enthusiasm," reported the Rev. Sylvester Kwiatkowski, pastor of the parishes of St. Patrick's in Grass Valley, St. Canice in Nevada City and Immaculate Conception in Downieville.

"He is putting the words of Jesus Christ into action," said Kwiatkowski, who is also known as Father Sylvester.

"I have hope. Pure and simple," said Carole Morris, a parishioner of St. Patrick's. She asserted many Catholics have renewed faith because Pope Francis has demonstrated "humility, inclusiveness and forgiveness."

"We want the Church to stand for what Jesus taught," she said.

New pope, new firsts

After the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected pope by the College of Cardinals in the Vatican in Rome March 13.

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One of his first acts of office was to choose the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, a saint revered for his devotion to the poor and love of animals.

It's the first time in more than 1,000 years that a pope has not chosen a name of a former pope, but that's only one of the many firsts this pope embodies.

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to become pope, the first from the Americas, and the first from the Southern Hemisphere – but those are not the firsts that have given many of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics new hope for their scandal-plagued church. (Sexual molestation of children by rogue priests, high-level cover-ups and financial irregularities in the Vatican have caused many Catholics to question the virtues of their church.)

From his first day in office, the pope has refused to wear the ermine-lined red velvet cape and the golden pectoral cross worn by his predecessors. Furthermore, he has shunned the grand Apostolic Palace and chosen to set up residence in the Vatican's ascetic guest hotel.

Perhaps, the firsts that really caught the world's attention, however, were when Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of 12 young prisoners – including two women, one of whom was Muslim.

No pope in history has ever done that.

Humility, hope – and doubt

After coming home Wednesday from a Knights of Columbus meeting at St. Patrick's with her husband Gary, Linda Grube reported, "There was an air of enthusiasm for Pope Francis."

"He's a man of the people," said Gary Grube. "I'm excited to see what the next year brings."

"I'm very hopeful," stated Jim Ward, a St. Canice parishioner, in a separate interview. "He has humility and concern for the poor." Still, he cautioned, "I don't think there will be any big changes."

Several people contacted by The Union declined to speak on the record. However, their consensus was that, while they are impressed with his humility and willingness to work with other religions (notably Judaism and Islam), they have no hope that Pope Francis will change the Church's rigid positions on the ordination of women, homosexuality or reproductive choice.

Furthermore, the Associated Press has reported that traditionalist Catholics are upset with the pope's rejection of the ceremony and lavish trappings that have distinguished the Catholic Church for centuries.

Moreover, one critic, Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, wrote in his blog, "What liberals forget in their present crowing is that even as Francis makes himself – and the church – more popular by projecting (a) compassionate image, he will simultaneously make it harder for them to criticize him when he reaffirms the doctrinal points they want him to overturn."

Additionally, mystery and suspicion linger over what the pope did – or didn't do – as a priest during Argentina's "Dirty War" in the late 1970s.

First Jesuit, first non-European

Regardless of critics, Rev. Kwiatkowski said that the fact Pope Francis is both the first Jesuit and first non-European is an "extraordinary gift to the world."

Jesuits, also known as the Society of Jesus, are known for their vows of poverty and sacrifice as well as their devotion to education and intellect.

"They find God in all things," Kwiatkowski said.

Also, he predicted that having a pope from South America will be "very refreshing. Their spirituality is different. He can inspire and provoke the world."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at tdurkin@vfr.net.

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