Baltimore Catholics see fresh outlook from new pope

First Latin American, first Jesuit, first Francis marks break with past to some

  • Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori blesses parishioners at the end of Mass at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, shortly after the installation of Pope Francis.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori blesses parishioners… (Balitmore Sun photo by Karl…)
March 13, 2013|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

Surprise turned into joy as Baltimore Catholics celebrated the election of the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, saying it offered an often-hidebound church a chance for rejuvenation.

"One time, John Paul the Great called America, meaning North, Central and South America, the continent of hope," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori. "I can only imagine the hopes and the joy that is welling up in the hearts of Hispanic Catholics here in the archdiocese and all over the country."

With the announcement of the new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was born in Buenos Aires, Lori noted that a large number of the world's Catholics reside in Argentina and the capital that he came to head. "I think that's great, and probably it will also do wonders for their soccer team," Lori joked.

In Baltimore, the birthplace of Roman Catholicism in the U.S., some saw significance in the name that the new pope chose, taking it as a nod to St. Francis of Assisi and a dream he had in which Jesus told him to "repair my church."

"The church is in tough shape. A lot has gone wrong," said the Rev. Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, referring to "the sexual abuse crisis … and the way that the hierarchy dealt with it. If, in fact, the name he chose signals he understands that, and that [rebuilding] will be his hallmark, that's very exciting."

Linnane has another reason to cheer the selection of Bergoglio — both are Jesuits, the order that runs Loyola and 27 other colleges in the country. The elevation of the first Jesuit pope made Lori wonder why, when he drove past Loyola to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen to celebrate a Mass in honor of the new pontiff, he didn't hear "champagne corks popping."

There were celebrations on campus, perhaps quieter ones.

Patrick O'Connor, a 19-year-old student from Boston, was among those who trickled into the campus chapel to pray for Pope Francis' success.

"He's a human being like everyone," O'Connor said. "He needs prayer, he needs grace, just like all of us.

"It's a new time in the church. I'm just excited to see what God has in store for him for however many years."

Linnane, who was out of town, nevertheless felt a certain home-team pride.

"It's a little bit like when we won the national championship in lacrosse — 'our side won,'" Linnane said. "There's a little bit of boosterism."

Linnane was surprised by the selection, given that no previous pope had emerged from the Jesuit order, known for its intellectualism.

"We have a reputation in the church that we regard ourselves as an elite, so we think the other groups wouldn't like us," Linnane said.

Like others, Baltimore Catholics were taken by the new pope's humble demeanor during his brief appearance Wednesday on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. The impression deepened when Catholics learned he was known for his outreach to the poor, visiting slums in Argentina and living a simple life of public transportation rather than limousines.

"I thought that was really great," the Rev. Joseph Lacey of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez in Woodstock said of seeing the new pope referred to as a man of the people. "I said, 'Oh, boy, there's hope.'"

Lacey said he hopes Pope Francis works "to make it a very welcoming church."

"So many people are alienated from the church," Lacey said. "In general, people are so turned off by religion."

In Baltimore, where a little over one-fifth of the archdiocese's 500,000 Catholics are Hispanic, there was pride in the new pope's nationality.

"Growing up in a country that is a territory of the U.S. but culturally Latin American, it was such a surprise and such an honor," said Alsy Acevedo, who is from Puerto Rico and works as a communications officer for Latin America and the Caribbean at Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore.

"The church is a really big part of Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America, so this is beautiful to see," said Acevedo, 30. "I really didn't think I would see this in my lifetime."

Acevedo said the new pope's choice of name made his appointment even more special. "I went to a Franciscan school in Puerto Rico, so that was really emotional for me."

The announcement triggered "texts and messages and tweets" among her family and friends, she said.

"It's amazing. When I heard his last name, I started to jump," said Susanna Quiroz, a native of Argentina who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years and plans to apply for citizenship this year.

"I want a bright new way, not only for the Catholics, but for the world," said Quiroz, 42, who works as a cook at Grano Pasta Bar in Hampden and in a cafe at Anderson Honda dealership in Hunt Valley.

She wonders if it's time to allow priests to marry, for example. "I am trying to be more open and change a little bit and let them have the opportunity to have a family," she said. "They don't have an opportunity to have a life."

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