March 14, 2013

Maine Catholics impressed by new pope's 'humility'

The election of Spanish-speaking Pope Francis is met with excitement and optimism for the church.

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

The election of the first pope from South America, one who speaks fluent Spanish and is a member of the Jesuit order, seemed to resonate Wednesday with Catholics in Maine.

They said Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- Pope Francis -- is humble and mindful of the needs of the less fortunate.

At St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Augusta, workers rang church bells and draped yellow ribbons over church doors to mark the election of a new pope.

The Rev. Francis Morin said the selection was "totally unexpected," but "I'm really excited."

Bishop Richard Malone, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Portland, said the choice caught him off guard.

In a statement released Wednesday, Malone said he was impressed with Pope Francis's "humility and spontaneity as he began his first blessing to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square by asking everyone to pause in silent prayer, to pray for him and to bless him. That was a powerful moment."

Malone took time out Wednesday night from a relief services conference in Baltimore to speak with media from across the Northeast.

"My reaction is one of surprise," Malone said during the conference call.

Malone said the pope is from a part of the world where the Catholic religion is thriving. He said South America now has more Catholics than any other continent.

Malone said he sees potential for greatness in the new pope, who has shown "tremendous concern and passion" for those in need in Argentina.

Malone said the fact that Pope Francis is the first Spanish-speaking pope will benefit Hispanic members of the church in Maine and across the globe.

"I'm very happy. He will represent us, all the Hispanic people," said Rosario Starrat, outreach coordinator for the Hispanic Ministry in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Starrat, who lives in Lewiston, said the church needs someone with strong moral principles to lead it out of the struggles it has encountered with issues of sexual abuse by priests.

"I feel he will help us in this difficult time," she said.

Sacred Heart Church in Portland's West End supports the Hispanic Ministry by celebrating the Eucharist in English and Spanish.

"I'm both humbled and giddy at the same time," said the Rev. William Campbell of the Society of Jesus, president of Cheverus High School in Portland, which offers faith-based education based on Jesuit teachings.

Campbell said that when the new pope was elected, he was flooded with dozens of text messages and emails from the Cheverus community.

"They were delighted," he said.

Campbell said the election of a 76-year-old from Argentina -- the first Jesuit pope -- surprised him.

"There were two givens, going into the papal conclave: that the new pope would not be an American or a Jesuit. This flies against convention," Campbell said.

Campbell said the Jesuit order is known for its emphasis on education and "its engagement with the world."

The fact that Pope Francis is the first non-European pope since the 8th century also bodes well.

"He presents to the world the reality of our church that we are a global faith," Campbell said.

Sister Patricia Pora, who lives in Portland, lived in the South American countries of Chile and Peru for 28 years.

She likes the fact that Pope Francis speaks Spanish and comes from an area that's not as highly developed as the United States.

"He knows the realities of a developing nation," Pora said.

In 2005, Pora helped form the Roman Catholic Church's Hispanic Ministry. She received dozens of phone calls from Hispanic church members Wednesday, all in favor of the new pope.

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