The choice of a humble Argentinian cardinal to succeed Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a resounding success, say Louisiana officials who work in concert with the Roman Catholic Church in its Baton Rouge-area missions and ministries.
The College of Cardinals elected Pope Francis, formerly archbishop of Buenos Aires, on Wednesday after a five-vote, two-day conclave.
Francis, the first Jesuit elected to the papacy, was seen by many as a surprise choice to follow Benedict because Francis was not among the pre-conclave shortlist of favorites. But the 76-year-old reportedly drew 77 votes out of 115, the exact number needed for election.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s decision to adopt the name Francis has drawn widespread comment among Catholics because he is the first pope to select that name.
Pete Guarisco, vice president of mission integration for the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System in Baton Rouge, said he truly believes the new pope is worthy of the name of Francis. Also, as a member of a nonprofit Franciscan health care organization, Guarisco said he feels a special connection to the new pope.
“I think that his past actions and work in the church have demonstrated his connection to St. Francis of Assisi, “Guarisco said. “I know that he speaks about humility and reaching out to the poor and vulnerable and working to serve, which are the attributes most commonly known or presented as St. Francis of Assisi’s philosophy.”
St. Francis started the Franciscan order and, according to Catholic belief, Francis was told by God that he needed Francis to rebuild the church.
Guarisco said he has talked to others in his office who share the same special connection to the new pope that he does because they feel as though they have gained a deeper understanding of St. Francis of Assisi because they, too, help the needy and poor.
“We realize that it’s a special place for us to be and a special recognition by him, so we feel that close connection just for that fact that he has chosen that name, Francis,” Guarisco said.
Another who feels a connection with the new pontiff because of their shared beliefs in helping the poor and needy is Michael Acaldo, chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
“In a true sense, our new holy father has basically said he’s in solidarity with the poor,” Acaldo said in an interview Thursday.
Acaldo said he believes the actions of Francis before he became pope, when he was ministering to his flock in Buenos Aires, Argentina, are clear indicators of the type of person he is and the type of pontiff he will be.
“I think when someone so clearly emphasizes simplicity of life and they do it on an ongoing basis while they’re not under a microscope, that’s an indication that he was doing that because he embraced that life of simplicity and a life focused on others and a life that did not in any way focus on materialism or material goods,” Acaldo said.
Acaldo said there is no special celebration planned at the Baton Rouge shelter to honor the installation of a new pontiff because he and staff members and volunteers “will be celebrating the holy father’s installation every day by doing Christ’s work” through helping those in need at St. Vincent de Paul, whether it is providing food to the hungry or filling medicine prescriptions for those with no health insurance.
The Knights of Columbus is another group that works in the name of the Catholic Church, even though it is indirectly affiliated.
John Boudreaux, state deputy and the highest ranking officer of the organization in Louisiana, described the new pope as a “humble, down-to-earth, holy, holy man” and said no matter who the pope was or where he was from, the Knights would pledge their allegiance to him and continue to act as the right arm of the church.
The Knights raise funds each year to help further the church’s mission, including offering disaster relief, donating money to other organizations or creating college scholarships for children from needy families.
Boudreaux said cardinals and bishops routinely visit the Knights’ annual national conference and a spokesman from the Vatican also attends with a message from the pope for the Knights.
While Boudreaux, of Broussard, said he was moved by the pope’s humility when Francis asked people to pray for him before he prayed for them, he admitted he hopes the new pope has a toughness about him “to take on the politics” and do what he needs to do in order to clean up some of the church’s problems, not sweep them under the rug.
In the same vein, Catholic broadcaster David Dawson, of Baton Rouge, acknowledged not knowing much about Francis before the election, but Francis’ humility in his first public appearances showed Dawson all he needed to see.
“The pope that we’re getting at this time is exactly what the Catholic Church needs,” said Dawson, president of Catholic Community Radio in Baton Rouge, WPYR, and New Orleans, WQNO.
“Really, if you listen to what everybody wanted in a pope, they wanted someone who represented Christ. So for him to pick St. Francis, it caught us off guard but it made so much sense,” Dawson added.
Since Francis’ election, people have come out in the media bashing his actions or inactions when he allegedly failed to openly confront the military leaders responsible for kidnapping and killing thousands of people during Argentina’s “Dirty War” from 1976-1983.
Dawson said while he understands that some people will negatively portray Francis, as they would have any cardinal who was elected, those allegations do not sway Dawson’s opinion of the newly elected pontiff.
“When we find out who the man is and what he represents, and we’re finding it out rapidly, I think the goodness of the man will outshine how a few people have perceived him,” Dawson said.
At St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on Saturday afternoon, parishioner Sharon Rybolt, of Baton Rouge, said she likes what she has seen so far from the new pope and he seems like a “nice fellow.”
But Rybolt said she is going to reserve her judgment of Pope Francis, “until he’s been there for a while.”