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Dallas-area Catholics Have High Hopes for New Pope

Meeting Pope FrancisReposted with permission from the Dallas Morning News. This article ran in the paper's March 14, 2013 issue.

By Jeff Weiss

First pope from this hemisphere. First Hispanic pope. First pope taking the name "Francis." North Texas Catholics grabbed on to facts Wednesday about the man who until that afternoon had been Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aries.

Josefina Flores of Arlington was in downtown Dallas with her daughter and heard the bells peal at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. They ducked into the sanctuary to say a prayer for the new pontiff.

"He comes from a spiritual country and he seems so charismatic," she said. "I have high hopes for him."

High hopes always accompany a new papacy. Some key details about Pope Francis pointed some local Catholics toward particular hopes.
Kevin Farrell, Dallas' bishop, focused on the former archbishop's reputation for humility and the stories that he rejected a fancy residence and traveled by bus to visit the poor of his sprawling diocese. While Francis is known as an intellectual, he's revered by those he served as a particularly effective pastor, Farrell said.

"He is going to be a teacher who participates with the people," he said.

And the choice of cardinals to pick a South American as pope will not be lost on Hispanics in this hemisphere or this diocese, Farrell said.

"To this hemisphere, this is the greatest thing that could have ever happened," he said. "Latin America is where the vast majority of our Catholics today come from."

Thomas W. Keefe, president of the University of Dallas, a Catholic college, agreed with that assessment.

"It is a statement to the Hispanic population that the church is looking to them for leadership," he said.

In Fort Worth, the hope was that the new pope would quickly name a new local leader. The bishop's chair has been vacant since Pope Benedict XVI assigned Bishop Kevin Vann last year to the diocese in Orange County, Calif.

"The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth is committed to the New Evangelization, as we are blessed to live in Texas where Catholicism is growing. We look forward to the day when Pope Francis will name a new bishop to shepherd our Diocese and to lead us on the path to holiness," wrote the Rev. Stephen Berg, the diocesan administrator in charge until the new bishop is named.

Many people were particularly struck by the surprising name the new pope selected. He is the first in 1,100 years to take a name not used by previous pontiffs. (John Paul I combined two oft-used papal names.) That says something about the new pope's sense of independence, local Catholic experts said. And the name itself could be homage to at least two Catholic saints.

St. Francis of Assisi was famous for his piety, simplicity and devotion to the poor.

"I think the name 'Francis' speaks to his commitment to a simple lifestyle and the things that Francis stood for," said the Rev. Charles Curran, a professor at Southern Methodist University and a Catholic priest who butted heads with the Vatican on some theology issues.

St. Francis Xavier was among the founders of the Jesuits, a Catholic order to which the new pope belongs. That Francis was legendary for his evangelizing — bringing the Christian faith to India and parts of Asia.

"Legend says that he had baptized so many for so many hours that he could not even lift his arms anymore," said Pia Septien, director of continuing education for the University of Dallas school of ministry.

Some Catholics are hoping that the new pope brings in changes that reflect the spirit of both saints.

What local experts agree on is that anybody hoping for radical changes in hot-button issues is likely to be disappointed. Female clergy, birth control, homosexuality — these are not areas in which the new pope is likely to shift.

"There is no indication in his past that he will change anything — and if there were any indication, they never would have elected him," Curran said.

But even Curran said there was reason to hope for a style of leadership that included more listening and dialogue than the Vatican had shown in recent years.

On Wednesday, for many local Catholics, hope and the joy of having the Chair of Peter filled again was enough.

Septien spent much of the afternoon on the air at a local Spanish-language Catholic radio station.

"People are calling in and saying they were in the car driving and had to stop because they were crying," she said. "They are saying 'I am not only happy because he speaks Spanish, but because we have a pope.'"

Back at the cathedral, Armando Castellanos, a guitarist, was there by sheer coincidence when the announcement was made.

"I feel relieved," he said. "We were like sheep with no shepherd."

Staff writer Christina Rosales contributed to this report.

PHOTO: UD Rome students were among the first to greet Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday. (UD Spring 2013 Rome student Maria Buckner)

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