Niles pastors react to selection of new pope
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 14, 2013 10:08PM
NILES — The Rev. Christopher Gustafson, pastor of Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church in Niles, was headed to a meeting Wednesday afternoon when his cell phone began buzzing.
White smoke was spotted above the Sistine Chapel and the “Pope Alarm” text alert sounded. Someone in the parish office then also sent Gustafson a message. He went to find a TV and patiently waited for the announcement.
“It was very exciting,” he said. “My stomach was all turned up in a hopeful way.”
Gustafson said he was “ecstatic” to learn Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, had been elected. It was surprising, too, given the 76-year-old archbishop’s age and talks of other candidates as frontrunners, he added.
“Clearly the Holy Spirit was at work,” Gustafson said.
Bergoglio’s election is historic in many ways. He’s the first pope to hail from South America, he’s the first Jesuit priest elected pope and he is the first pope to take the name Francis.
The Rev. Michael Meany, pastor of St. John Brebeuf Church in Niles, said he, too, is very excited to have the new Pope Francis I as the Catholic Church’s new leader.
“I think it’s a wonderful choice,” said Meany, pointing to the large percentage of Catholics who reside in South American countries. “So many people are from that area of the world.”
The Rev. Dennis O’Neill of St. Martha Catholic Church in Morton Grove agreed.
“I was hoping it would be someone from the Southern Hemisphere,” he said.
O’Neill was also was happy that the new pope chose the name Francis, calling the name “the universal sign of peace.”
Like so many others, Meany described Francis as a “simple” and “very humble” man. Meany also believes Francis will be a good role model for Latinos.
“In Chicago, we have such a large number of Latinos who are people of faith and work hard and they turn to the church for guidance and strength,” he noted.
Larry Skaja, deacon at St. John Brebeuf parish, was also very excited about Francis being elected pope.
“I think he’s a simple man,” said Skaja of the Jesuit priest who took the name of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan religious order who embraced simplicity and poverty while reaching out to the poor. “He doesn’t live in a palace, he lives in an apartment. He takes public transportation. He’s a servant. Maybe he’ll inspire a lot of people to do the same.”
Skaja said Pope Francis has a big job ahead of him: to straighten out scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church and make some positive changes.
“There’s great hope and anticipation that an independent person will do this,” said Skaja. “Jesuits are smart people, they think a lot about what they do before they do it.”
Gustafson said he was pleased to see the election closely followed and, in some cases, celebrated by many, including non-Catholics.
“It’s a wonderful thing for the media and the world recognize this is a spiritual leader,” he said.
After stepping out onto the Vatican balcony around 2 p.m. Chicago time, Pope Francis asked for prayers for himself and for retired Pope Benedict XVI.
According to some reports, he came close to becoming pope last time, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
Bergoglio, was born Dec. 17, 1936, to Italian immigrants in Buenos Aries. Besides his native Spanish, he also speaks Italian and German.
He was ordained as a Jesuit in 1969.
— Sun-Times Media contributed.~.