A 'pastor' with 'presence'

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Local reaction to Pope Francis

AMHERST – The new head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, will be more than embraced by Canadian Catholics, says Father Vernon Driscoll of Holy Family Parish.

“I believe so,” said Driscoll.

He said the multilingual Argentinian was a surprise. The pope, Jorge Bergoglio, has never worked in Rome and he’s older than Driscoll expected. The priest said the head of his church has already shown a willingness to break with some traditions.

One of the garments traditionally worn by the pope was not on display in yesterday’s Vatican balcony appearance, and before blessing the assembly of Romans in St. Peter’s Square, he asked for the crowd’s blessing first. Driscoll said a story is circulating that the pope quipped to the cardinals that they’d need God’s forgiveness for what they’ve done (making him pope).

“(He has) an unbelievable presence,” said Driscoll.

He remarked on Francis’s apparent calm when addressing what some estimated to be 100,000 people. And the priest also marveled at what the experience must be for a cardinal said to live a modest life to suddenly be elevated to the papacy.

“What a change…,” he said.

It seems to be a trend, Driscoll said, that the cardinals want popes who will serve for shorter periods than the two decades John Paul II served. In terms of doctrine, a middle of the road approach is the best, in his view.

“You don’t want an extreme.”

Rev. John Perkin, an academic and Mount Allison University’s chaplain, said he didn’t have any particular cardinal on his radar, although he suspected the promotion of Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada was less likely than was portrayed in Canadian media generally.

One thing our media got right, according to Perkin, was the Latin American connection. Ouellet spent considerable time in South America. Perkin said he anticipated the new pope would have ties to that continent, but his prediction was a European pope – Spanish, to be precise.

They needed to recognize the Latin American community, said the Baptist minister.

Despite the new pope’s relatively advanced age – he presumably won’t hold office for multiple decades – Perkin said the choice doesn’t indicate the Vatican’s in a holding pattern.

“What we got is a pastor,” said Perkin, in contrast to someone more focused on doctrine, church structure, or issues.

He said Francis should be expected to hold traditional views on subjects such as abortion, gay rights and the role of women in the church, but to have a liberalizing effect in terms of inclusivity: a passionate interest in the poor and a positive, populist message.

Perkin said the choice of Francis sends a signal to the planet’s Catholics: “You are the church.”

The chaplain said the modern incarnation of the Jesuit order, of which Francis was a member, combines humility with evangelism and a belief in the value of intellectual and cultural pursuits.

“I think very positively of the (modern) Jesuits,” said the minister.

Father Driscoll said there is no particular ceremony held at a local level to acknowledge the promotion of a new pope, although prayers will be offered on his behalf. The priest noted that Pope Francis will officially take office Tuesday, which is the Feast of St. Joseph for Catholics – the patron saint of Canada.


Twitter: @ADNsparling

Organizations: Roman Catholic Church, Mount Allison University

Geographic location: Vatican, Rome, Canada South America

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