Lake County reacts to election of new pope, Francis I
Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio, elected Pope Francis I, appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican after being elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. | Vincenzo Pinto/Getty Images
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:06PM
For Catholics, the election of a pope is kind of like a new baby in the family.
Who is this new person? What’s his name? Who will he grow up to be?
While the former Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is far from infancy at 76 years old, his papacy holds both promise and mystery for an embattled church in an uncertain world. He’s the first pope from the Americas, the first Francis — taking the name Francis I — and the first Jesuit, with a reputation for simple living, conservative theology and compassion for the poor.
His election on Wednesday was cause for excitement among Catholics and other people of faith in Lake County.
When white smoke wafted from a Vatican chimney, signalling the choice had been made, shoppers at the bookstore at Marytown, a Conventual Franciscan monastery and retreat house in Libertyville, alerted by their mobile phones, followed the clerks who gathered around a TV in a small office.
“We’re elated,” said Franciscan Brother Donald, a native of McHenry, who shares a Dec. 17 birthday with the new pontiff. “We’re just so excited to get a pope. When you have no leader, you feel uneasy.”
Brother Donald said he was surprised and happy with the choice.
“You never know how the spirit works and it happened so quickly,” he said. “It looks like they knew just what they wanted. We got a Polish pope the other time (Pope John Paul II), and that was unheard of, too.”
The brother alluded to the challenges Pope Francis I will face, especially in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world, which have been rocked by scandal.
“The pope is God’s vicar on earth,” Brother Donald said. “Just to mutter the words, ‘Okay. I will take this on,’ there’s no way one person can deal with this. But with the Holy Spirit and the entire church cooperating, nothing is impossible with God. We’re praying for union, of all people.”
A short distance from Marytown, the Rev. Thomas Franzman, provost at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, mused on the first non-European pope in modern history.
“I’m glad to see it’s someone from South America,” Franzman said. “Seeing that part of the world get represented is really great because it has a strong Catholic presence. Africa is another very Catholic region that should see that recognition soon.”
The Rev. Jean Valdemar, an evangelical minister from Waukegan who teaches theology at Judson College in Elgin, hailed the choice of Bergoglio, calling him “the first American pope ever.”
“This is huge,” Valdemar said. “It isn’t just South America. It’s the Americas.”
Valdemar, a native of Haiti, said he has followed the new pope’s career.
“This is a very gentle man, a man of heart, of broken heart, who really understands what people go through,” Valdemar said. “He’s a very humble man. That’s what Catholics need today for reconciliation, for friendship with other denominations. I see it as a good thing for the continent and the world. This is a man who can lead the Catholic Church in the 21st century.”
Catholic pastors also hailed the new pope.
“I think it’s a beautiful and powerful choice; very significant,” said the Rev. Joseph Curtis, pastor of St. Mary of Vernon in Indian Creek, where church workers also crowded around a television to learn more about their new leader.
“This is acknowledging the fact that the church is a worldwide church,” said Curtis, who added that while he would have been pleased with any choice the conclave made, he is happy that the new pope is a man of prayer who works for the people and does it in a personable and real way.
At St. Joseph’s Parish in Libertyville, the Rev. John Trout said the pope’s first words were telling.
“He asked the people to pray for him, which is a sign of humility,” Trout said.
Like Brother Donald, Trout said the new pope’s choice of name is an important sign.
“It signals a more humble church, more Christ-centered, and this is what is needed right now,” said Trout, who was also impressed that Pope Francis I emphasized community in his first remarks, a consistent theme of Catholic social teaching, “that we are responsible for one another, especially the poor.”
Trout said he was also impressed that Bergoglio had shunned the “trappings of cardinal,” took public buses and refused a driver.
Kitty Shumaker, a member of the largely Latino Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan, had just picked up 100 pounds of venison for the church’s soup kitchen when she heard the news, she said.
“I knew nothing about him,” Shumaker said. “But I hear he cooks his own meals.”
Shumaker said she’s a little concerned about Francis’ age.
“But age is relative,” she said. “I’m aging, too, and maybe he’s a very energetic person.”
By the time Shumaker delivered the venison, which will be used for “very good” meatloaf, she said, she had learned something else about the new pope.
“He understands the preferential option for the poor,” Shumaker said. “We need that, especially in our culture. That’s what Jesus says in the Bible; the poor are special to him.”
Pioneer Press reporters Anna Tarkov and Rick Kambic contributed.