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Choice of multicultural pope delights Joliet priest

Updated: April 15, 2013 11:25AM



The Rev. Peter Jankowski was eating lunch at a Joliet restaurant on Wednesday when he spotted one TV with white smoke out of all the screens featuring sports.

Suddenly, the whole sports bar was fixated on that TV, Jankowski said. He jokingly bet that the new pope would be from Brazil or the Philippines. When he heard it was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, he was thrilled.

“I was hoping we’d have a multicultural pope to represent the church, which is universal,” said Jankowski, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Joliet, where 40 percent of the parish is Hispanic. “What a very holy, holy man. Oh my gosh.”

At Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, where nearly all parishioners are Hispanic, the phone at the church office was ringing with glee.

“We are excited,” said Carolina Gallardo, her face beaming with a smile as she talked about the phone calls she had been taking soon after the new pope was announced. “All the phone calls that I get — they are so happy because he’s from Latin America, and he speaks Spanish.”

Joliet Bishop R. Daniel Conlon said he, too, “thinks it’s wonderful that the pope is Hispanic.” But where the pope is from is not so important to Conlon. He believes the cardinals chose the man who has taken the name Pope Francis I because he is “the right pope of the church at this time.”

A little excitement about the pope wouldn’t hurt the Catholic church in the Joliet diocese and elsewhere, however.

There are more than 655,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Joliet, which stretches over seven counties.

Asked if the number has been growing or declining, Conlon said, “That’s always a difficult question to answer because it’s hard to know what standard to use to measure.”

In marriages and baptisms, the numbers are up, Conlon said.

“You also have to look at the number of people who stop practicing the faith for various reasons. These are people we have to reach, too,” Conlon said. “Is the number of active Catholics up? I’m not so optimistic about those numbers.”

Conlon’s priority of having the “right pope” probably will mean more after the excitement of having a Hispanic pope has subsided.

One problem facing Pope Francis I is how to deal with sexual abuses of minors committed by priests. Even as cardinals met in Rome this week, the Joliet diocese announced a court settlement in a case involving allegations from three minors who said they were abused in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mike Schauer, a building supervisor at the Joliet Park District, said he left the Catholic church a decade ago primarily because of the abuse scandals. Schauer said he was teaching an adult religion class at a South Holland Church in the early 1990s when one priest was led away in handcuffs.

“It’s something you don’t forget,” Schauer said. “It was mind boggling.”

Schauer viewed the election of a new pope from the Americas as interesting but said he did not expect much change in the church.

But many Catholics are genuinely excited about the possibilities that a new pope can bring.

“How nice. I’m happy. I mean it’s wonderful,” Gloria Chavez Nussbaum, an office worker at St. Patrick’s Church, said upon hearing that the new pope is from Argentina. “Instead of keeping it a European all the time, they broadened the horizon.”

Rev. Jose Cilia, associate pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, said he was very impressed with Pope Francis I’s initial appearance, which Cilia watched on television.

“When I saw him for the first time, I was so happy because he showed a happy face,” Cilia said. Cilia, who spent 37 years of his priesthood in South America, said he was happy to hear the new pope was from Argentina. But he was also impressed by reports that when he was a cardinal, Francis I lived in an apartment, cooked for himself and rode public transportation.

“I think with his humility, he will help a lot,” Cilia said.

Bergoglio’s taking on the name of St. Francis, the first pope to ever do so, certainly suggests that he may want to represent something new in church leadership.

St. Francis was a reformer, said Sister Dolores Zemont, president of the Franciscan Sisters of Joliet.

Zemont was at the University of St. Francis for an awards ceremony when members of her order learned a new pontiff had been chosen and that he had selected the name Pope Francis.

“When we heard the name, we just got the chills and some of us teared up,” said Zemont. “It’s very moving.”

USF President Michael Vinciguerra said St. Francis was a man of faith who aligned himself with the poor and marginalized.

“I’m quite pleased he chose the name of St. Francis,” Vinciguerra said. “I’m optimistic that there are some very good things ahead of us.”

That sentiment was reflected among many of the congregants who attended a Wednesday night mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic church in downtown Joliet. The church was filled with hope, faith and a sense of gratitude.

One word remained constant: “Humble.”

Nan Horvatin, 85, of Joliet was very pleased and excited with the new pope.

“He seems like he is a people’s pope,” she said. “He is down-to-earth, and he is very humble and that is a beautiful thing to have.”

St. Joseph’s pastor, the Rev. Tim Andres, spoke during mass about the universal nature that electing Pope Francis provides to the Roman Catholic Church.

“He is one of the most humble, they say, cardinals in the world,” Andres said. “And, we have a pope from somewhere outside Europe so the universal nature of our church and the Catholic nature is truly looked at today as they elect a pope from South America, from the America’s for the first time.”

The Rev. Matt Pratscher of St. Francis Xavier church in Joliet gave the homily at St. Joseph’s. He echoed the same sentiment of St. Joseph’s parishioners.

“What a great day today is,” Pratscher said. “We have a pope. Pope Francis.”

Contributing: Jaime Angio



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