Pope Francis casts focus 
on New World

Pope Francis’ election Wednesday seems to hold out a hand of recognition to burgeoning Catholic populations in Latin America while also putting a hand of strength on a church reeling from scandal, said the Rev. Edmundo Valera of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Grand Junction.

The selection by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Francis as his papal name signals two possible directions for the papacy, Valera said.

The selection could refer to St. Francis of Assisi or St. Francis Xavier, or perhaps to both, Valera said.

“Those two saints loomed large” in the Catholic Church and Francis seems to be seeking to combine the inspiration of both, Valera said.

Francis’ selection is notable not only in that he is a native of the New World, but also the first Jesuit to become pope.

In addition to stressing the importance of education and intellectual development, Jesuits stress the development of social conscience.

Along with making the most of education, “you measure your success with how much you contribute to society and that’s a very Jesuit thing,” Valera said.

Those values could well inform Francis’ papacy, Valera said.

Francis Xavier, also a Jesuit, stressed the importance of education and missionary work. Francis seems to be saying he will follow a similar path, Valera said. The new pope will have to deal with other issues, however.

“Aren’t we at a crossroads?” Valera said. “A church that is scandal-ridden, a lot of lapsed Catholics?”

St. Francis of Assisi was called by God to reform the church and Pope Francis seems to face a similar challenge, Valera said. In selecting his name, “Maybe that’s what the Holy Father had in mind to rebuild the church,” Valera said. For Valera, the election of Pope Francis is particularly notable because it occurred on his 50th birthday. And Valera had been hoping for a pope from Latin America, where Catholics are more numerous than in Europe, said Valera, who was born and educated by Jesuits in the Philippines.

Sister Karen Bland of Grand Valley Catholic Outreach said the election of Francis is “a question mark in my mind,” but that it seems to recognize the growth of Catholicism in Latin America and Africa. That the election came in the approach of Easter is significant, said the Rev. John Farley of Immaculate Heart of Mary, who noted that he was thinking of using the image of the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the adulterous woman saved by Christ from stoning as recounted in the Book of John to illustrate the challenges facing Francis.

Though as a cardinal Francis has been doctrinally opposed to gay marriage, “he has been very supportive that gays have civil rights and they are not to be attacked,” Farley said.

His congregation will be delighted to have a Jesuit pope, said the Rev. Mike Smith of Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Fruita, himself a Jesuit.

As Francis is a Jesuit, “he will bring the spirit of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius of Loyola, to the papacy, i.e., ad majorem Dei gloriam, ‘For the greater glory of God,’ do everything great and small, Smith said.


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