Two words instantly come up when the faithful around South Carolina give their first impressions of Pope Francis: humility and love.
Clergy and lay people, young and old, from all parts of the state and many different backgrounds, all reflected on the new pope’s humble gestures when he first stepped on to the balcony in Rome on March 13. His request for prayer from the people moved many. Others see in him a ray of hope for the Church worldwide and a new era of recognition for Latin American Catholics and their contribution to the faith.
Dee Rodriguez, coordinator for Hispanic ministry at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, is a native of Argentina who said tears came to her eyes when she realized the church’s new leader came from her home country.
“The feeling I had was incredible, it was very emotional,” Rodriguez said. “I think he is what we really need at this time, with how humble he is, the simplicity of his life and the fact he is an incredible evangelizer. I think there couldn’t be a better person to awaken the new evangelization and put it into practice.”
Priests said they saw many promising things in just the first few hours and days of Pope Francis’ papacy.
Msgr. Richard D. Harris, vicar general for the Diocese of Charleston, said his first impression was of a “quiet, humble man of deep spirituality…to ask for the world’s blessings is an indication that he is a true pastor.”
“I well imagine that he will be a strong preacher of the Gospel values of justice, fairness and charity, as well as fidelity to the teachings and traditions of the Church,” he said.
Father Sandy McDonald, pastor of St. John Neumann Church, Columbia, said it was a “joyful surprise” to see the new pontiff because he was originally not listed as one of the frontrunners for the office.
“He is clearly a holy and humble man, and he hit the perfect note by asking for prayers,” Father McDonald said. “The Church in Latin America has given the universal Church and the world a wonderful gift in him.”
“This was a great move for the church because he seems like a very pastoral person,and that’s very important in our church today,” said Benedictine Father Karl J. Roesch, pastor of St. Mary the Virgin Mother Church, Hartsville and dean of the Pee Dee Deanery. “He talked to the people, he was one with them, and that humility, that’s the approach that’s really needed.”
Strong emotions for Pope Francis cut across the generations.
Gabe Timpano, 89, of Pawleys Island, said he felt an overwhelming feeling of love for the Holy Father as soon as he walked out on the balcony in Rome, something he has never felt so quickly for any other newly elected pontiff.
“This warm and humble pope will be good for the world, because you can’t help but love him,” Timpano said. “Especially when he bowed his head in prayer and asked the people to bless him – you knew he was something special.”
Patrick Judd, 16, a high school student from Aiken and member of the diocesan youth evangelization, or “E” team, says Pope Francis is a symbol of hope for young people and the future of the Church.
“He took the name Francis, and I was excited and encouraged because St. Francis of Assisi is a great eveangelist, and possibly evangelization will thrive with the new pope,” Judd said. “That is extraordinarily important to me, and I hope he will nurture it.”
The historic nature of Pope Francis’ selection as the first pontiff from Latin America is important for Diana Brito, 16, a member of the youth group at St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton.
“I thanked God that he let me see this, and I was really excited because the last pope said the hope for the future of the Church is in Latin America, and now we have a Latino pope,” Brito said. “Pope Francis is so humble and simple, and he will be able to communicate with the humblest people in our church and around the world. It’s really nice to know we have as a leader someone who is humble like Christ, who will come to both the poor and the rich and reach out to sinners.”
Rosemary Vincent of Pawleys Island thinks Pope Francis’ humility, his warm personality and experience in dealing with a sometimes difficult government in Argentina will help him promote Church teaching around the world and reach out to people struggling for religious and political liberty in places like the Middle East.
Several people reflected on the unique name the pope chose in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.
“That saint was known for his humility and work with the poor, and I hope this shows the pope will keep a good balance between keeping sound church doctrine and promoting the idea of social progression and working with the poor,” said Barbara Bolt, 46, of Columbia.
“He already the values of simplicity and humility like St. Francis before he became pope, so I think it will be interesting to see what kind of leadership he practices as well,” said Susana Pasicatan, a native of the Philippines who belongs to St. John Neumann Church , Columbia.
Rebecca Cox, a member of St. Patrick Church in Charleston, likes the pope’s reputation as a “down-to-earth, fair person.”
“I think he will be able to bring more unity to the church, and will be a true shepherd to the flock who maybe can bring more people back to the church and make them want to stay in the church,” Cox said.
Lismarie Trujillo, 21, of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville, is proud the pope shares her Hispanic heritage but said she “doesn’t’ judge what piece of land he comes from.”
“The important thing is he now have a leader who is also a humble pastor who is guiding us toward Jesus,” she said.