More than a billion Catholics entered Holy Week today with a new pope, including members of Saint Therese of Lisieux Parish in Cleveland.
Associate parish priest, the Rev. Tom Moser, said Wednesday that Saint Therese Parish is excited about Pope Francis from Argentina.
Pope Francis follows Benedict XVI, who was wonderful, but at age 85, Benedict struggled to keep up with the demands of the position and stepped down on Feb. 28. He ws the first pontiff to resign since 1415 when Gregory XII resigned to end a schism in the church.
“Time and age catches up to everyone,” Fr. Moser said. “I think he was wise, listening to the Holy Spirit, he decided to resign.”
Benedict’s decision was in marked contrast to Pope John Paul II, who remained in office until his death. He reigned over the church from 1978 until 2005. He was the second-longest serving pope in history and the first non-Italian since 1523.
“You see two different kinds of choices of what a pope can do,” the pastor said.
Pope Francis was elected in March. He is the first from The Americas, which is comprised of North and South America, and Caribbean Islands. The two continents in the Western Hemisphere make up 28 percent of the Earth’s total land area.
The Americas has four regions: Caribbean, Central, North and South America. The total population is 887.2 million. Of those people, 524.2 million (59 percent) belong to the Catholic faith — which is 48.75 percent of all Catholics in the world, according to the CIA Factbook and Pontifical Yearbook.
The five countries with the most Catholics are Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, United States and Italy.
Fr. Moser said the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires chose the name Francis because he wants his papacy to emulate Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), founder of the Franciscan order. The pope is a member of the Society of Jesus, a religious order founded in 1540 by Saint Ignatius Loyola.
“The Jesuits have not only taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but they also took another vow of obedience to the pope,” he said. “The lifestyle of the Jesuits is to not seek high offices, so this is kind of a break in that sense, but all these candidates (in the Conclave of Cardinals) would have to listen to the Holy Spirit. It has got to be a momentous decision when they all turn to you after the fourth ballot.”
Jesuits have a preferential option for serving the poor and as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, chose a very simple lifestyle by living in a small apartment instead of a palace, rode public transportation in favor of a limousine and cooked his own meals.
“People are picking up that he wants to continue a lot of that,” he said.
Fr. Moser believes the pontiff-elect chose the name Francis because of his lifestyle, prayer and a nudge by the Holy Spirit through a cardinal who reminded him not to forget about the poor. Saint Francis is one of the greatest — if not the greatest among all saints in church history.
“Throughout church history, that’s probably one the greatest times of spiritual renewal that we’ve had and it came hundreds of years before what is called the Counter Reformation when the Protestants were protesting against the Catholic Church and leaving the Church,” he said.
Images of Saint Francis show him with birds or out in nature taming wolves, but Pope Francis may have to accept some of the splendid trappings of the office. However, he has already opted against riding in the bulletproof pope mobile in favor of walking among the people.
“What strikes me about Pope Francis is his humility, his simplicity and when he was installed, he talked about taking care of the poor and the environment, and that’s also part of Francis of Assisi because of his love for nature,” he said.
While Pope Francis may have to give up some of his simplistic lifestyle, he shows no signs of forsaking the downtrodden. According to reports from the Vatican and the Catholic News Service, the new pope will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a Rome juvenile detention facility where he will wash the feet of some of the young detainees. It marks a change in venue of the previously scheduled Holy Week event from Saint Peter’s Basilica to Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison for minors.
The practice of his predecessors included washing the feet of priests or laypeople in ceremonies normally held in Saint Peter’s Basilica or the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis celebrated the mass in prisons, hospitals or shelters for the poor and marginalized.
“With the celebration at Casal del Marmo, Pope Francis will continue that practice, which must be carried out in a context characterized by simplicity,” the Vatican said in a March 21 statement.
Fr. Moser said, “He has this vivacious personality that’s easily picked up by everybody and I see a lot of happiness and joy in our church and even beyond.”
The associate pastor said Pope Francis has talked about servant leadership, which is certainly in line with the life of his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, and is wearing the title of “Servant of the Servants of God” with full humility.