Local leaders surprised, excited by new pope

By Jessica Able and Marnie McAllister, Record Staff Writers

Bells tolled and people rejoiced around the Archdiocese of Louisville as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was announced as Pope Francis I on the afternoon of March 13.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said during a phone interview minutes after the announcement that he greeted the news with great joy.

“It’s a wonderful day, what a great gift,” he said. “I’ve never met Pope Francis, however, I know of him and everything I have heard was wonderful. He’s a man of deep heart and spirituality.

“I was taken that he began his ministry in prayer,” the archbishop noted. In the first moments of his papacy, Archbishop Kurtz said, Pope Francis prayed the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

Archbishop Kurtz will lead the Archdiocese of Louisville in a Mass of Thanksgiving for the new pope tomorrow at noon at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth St.

In a statement released by the chancery, the archbishop reminded the faithful of the source of the first papacy — that of St. Peter, a fisherman named Simon, who was called by Jesus to apostolic life.

Pope Francis evokes similar simplicity, he said. In Buenos Aires, according to the Catholic News Service, he is known as Father Jorge. He rides the bus, lives in a simple apartment and cooks his own meals. His life will change drastically as leader of the world’s Catholics.

Father William Hammer, pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and of St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky., shared the excitement of the moment following the selection of Pope Francis I.

“It’s my understanding that he came in second in the balloting when Pope Benedict was chosen,” he said in a telephone interview, “so I think everyone knew he’d be someone who would be considered a good candidate.”

As the first pope in 1,000 years to come from a place other than Europe, Pope Francis I’s selection, Father Hammer said, “is a sign that the Church recognizes the wisdom and gifts of the Latin American Church.”

“I see this as an affirmation of the Church in South America,” he said. “Clearly, I think just as Pope Benedict’s selection of his name was indicative of the importance of witnessing and reaching beyond the church, I believe the choice of Franics shows that he will make a priority to do the same.

“If you examine Francis (of Assisi’s) life, you realize that he was a great apostle,” Father Hammer noted. “He was someone who had contact with the Muslim world, but most notibly you see his care and concern for the poor. And of course we know about his concern and care for nature, the world, all of creation.”

Though it’s too early to know for certain the direction that Pope Francis I’s pontificate will take, Father Hammer said that as the first to choose the name of Francis, the new pope “if he models his papacy after Francis, will be someone committed to taking the Gospel to all parts of the world, and he’ll be someone greatly concerned with the needs of the poor.”

Father Mark Spalding, pastor of Holy Trinity Church and vicar General for the Archdiocese of Louisville, agreed with Father Hammer.

“I don’t know that much about (the new pope),” he said, “but it is remarkable news.”

The key thing about Pope Francis I, Father Spalding said, “is that he is known to be a man devoted to the poor, and someone who is in service to them.”

The election of the cardinal from Buenos Aires surprised Father Matthew Hardesty and Father Christopher Rhodes, both young priests ordained in recent years.

Father Hardestry, associate pastor of St. James Church in Elizabthtown, Ky., St. Ambrose Church in Cecilia, Ky., and St. Ignatius Church in White Mills, Ky., said he was “very excited and also surprised. It was unexpected for me.”

Father Hardesty rang the bells of St. James Church continuously for about an hour after white smoke stremed from the Sistine Chapel. He said the Jesuit tradition Pope Francis will bring to the papacy will be a boon for Jesuits and  Catholics the world over.

“There’s such a rich intellectual and spiritual charism with the Jesuits,” he noted. “This may be an election more in line with (Pope Emeritus) Benedict’s election than we might think. Pope Benedict was very concerned about the intellectual and spiritual deficits in the modern world.”

Father Rhodes, associate pastor of St. Augustine Church in Lebanon, Ky., and Holy Name of Mary Church in Calvary, Ky., said his initial reaction was shock.

“I was quite surprised, very surprised,” he said.

Father Rhodes, who converted to Catholicism before entering the seminary in 2006, has seen many changes in the papacy in his short time as a seminarian and now a priest.

“For the longest time, as far as I can remember even when I was not Catholic, the world had its eyes on John Paul II. … His ability to cross cultural barriers with his charisma, personality and spirit,” he said.

Father Rhodes, who watched the announcement in the rectory of St. Augustine, thought it was compelling that the new pontiff chose the name Pope Francis I.

“St. Francis was a person of simplicity, of poverty and contemplation. I expect with the election of Pope Francis there to be a continuation of faith, holiness and prayer,” he said.

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