Baltimore Catholics see fresh outlook from new pope

Surprise turned into joy as Baltimore Catholics celebrated the election of the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, saying it offered an often-hidebound church a chance for rejuvenation.

"One time, John Paul the Great called America, meaning North, Central and South America, the continent of hope," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori. "I can only imagine the hopes and the joy that is welling up in the hearts of Hispanic Catholics here in the archdiocese and all over the country."


With the announcement of the new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was born in Buenos Aires, Lori noted that a large number of the world's Catholics reside in Argentina and the capital that he came to head. "I think that's great, and probably it will also do wonders for their soccer team," Lori joked.

In Baltimore, the birthplace of Roman Catholicism in the U.S., some saw significance in the name that the new pope chose, taking it as a nod to St. Francis of Assisi and a dream he had in which Jesus told him to "repair my church."


"The church is in tough shape. A lot has gone wrong," said the Rev. Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, referring to "the sexual abuse crisis … and the way that the hierarchy dealt with it. If, in fact, the name he chose signals he understands that, and that [rebuilding] will be his hallmark, that's very exciting."

Linnane has another reason to cheer the selection of Bergoglio — both are Jesuits, the order that runs Loyola and 27 other colleges in the country. The elevation of the first Jesuit pope made Lori wonder why, when he drove past Loyola to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen to celebrate a Mass in honor of the new pontiff, he didn't hear "champagne corks popping."

There were celebrations on campus, perhaps quieter ones.

Patrick O'Connor, a 19-year-old student from Boston, was among those who trickled into the campus chapel to pray for Pope Francis' success.

"He's a human being like everyone," O'Connor said. "He needs prayer, he needs grace, just like all of us.

"It's a new time in the church. I'm just excited to see what God has in store for him for however many years."

Linnane, who was out of town, nevertheless felt a certain home-team pride.

"It's a little bit like when we won the national championship in lacrosse — 'our side won,'" Linnane said. "There's a little bit of boosterism."


Linnane was surprised by the selection, given that no previous pope had emerged from the Jesuit order, known for its intellectualism.

"We have a reputation in the church that we regard ourselves as an elite, so we think the other groups wouldn't like us," Linnane said.

Like others, Baltimore Catholics were taken by the new pope's humble demeanor during his brief appearance Wednesday on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. The impression deepened when Catholics learned he was known for his outreach to the poor, visiting slums in Argentina and living a simple life of public transportation rather than limousines.

"I thought that was really great," the Rev. Joseph Lacey of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez in Woodstock said of seeing the new pope referred to as a man of the people. "I said, 'Oh, boy, there's hope.'"

Lacey said he hopes Pope Francis works "to make it a very welcoming church."

"So many people are alienated from the church," Lacey said. "In general, people are so turned off by religion."


In Baltimore, where a little over one-fifth of the archdiocese's 500,000 Catholics are Hispanic, there was pride in the new pope's nationality.

"Growing up in a country that is a territory of the U.S. but culturally Latin American, it was such a surprise and such an honor," said Alsy Acevedo, who is from Puerto Rico and works as a communications officer for Latin America and the Caribbean at Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore.

"The church is a really big part of Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America, so this is beautiful to see," said Acevedo, 30. "I really didn't think I would see this in my lifetime."

Acevedo said the new pope's choice of name made his appointment even more special. "I went to a Franciscan school in Puerto Rico, so that was really emotional for me."

The announcement triggered "texts and messages and tweets" among her family and friends, she said.

"It's amazing. When I heard his last name, I started to jump," said Susanna Quiroz, a native of Argentina who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years and plans to apply for citizenship this year.


"I want a bright new way, not only for the Catholics, but for the world," said Quiroz, 42, who works as a cook at Grano Pasta Bar in Hampden and in a cafe at Anderson Honda dealership in Hunt Valley.

She wonders if it's time to allow priests to marry, for example. "I am trying to be more open and change a little bit and let them have the opportunity to have a family," she said. "They don't have an opportunity to have a life."

Other Catholics were glad that the 115 cardinals who selected the new pope after 11/2 days of secret balloting chose someone from the New World.

"I was hoping for one from the U.S. because I think it's time to go beyond Europe," said Regis Connors, 70, who attended the Mass for the new pope at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

"I didn't know anything about him, but I was very impressed with what I saw," the retiree said. "He seemed like a very humble man, his entire demeanor. We need it. I hope he'll emphasize the need to get back to the humble basics of the teachings of Jesus."

One of Maryland's most prominent Catholics, Gov. Martin O'Malley, said it was "exciting" that the conclave chose the first pope from the Americas. He said Pope Francis appears to be a man who has led "a very simple and contemplative life" and "takes seriously the call to minister to the poor."


Asked whether he was at all disappointed that Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley had not ben chosen, he joked that "sources in the conclave tell me O'Malley was a really close second."

This week's buzzing over who might be elected was quickly replaced by speculation about what Pope Francis might choose to focus on in his new role.

Lori said it's too soon to tell, but Francis' previous priorities could offer a clue.

"There are many, many stories of his direct outreach to the poor, for example, going in to visit patients with HIV-AIDS, and personally washing them and being so very present for them, being very present for the poor … and doing all of that out of a robust Catholic faith," Lori said, "showing us that there's no divide between holding fast to the faith and being a man of pastoral love."

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT Catholics, said in a statement that he hopes the change in the church's leadership will bring about a change in approach. Many have left the church over its harsh rhetoric toward gays and lesbians, said DeBernardo, whose group is based in Prince George's County.

"Pope Francis has the opportunity to repair much of this hurt and alienation by offering sincere pastoral outreach to LGBT people and their families," DeBernardo, who was traveling in El Salvador, said in a prepared statement. "A welcoming gesture from the new pope in the first month of his papacy can go a long way to express God's love for all humanity."


Monsignor Stuart Swetland, a professor and vice president at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, said the new pope has already broken ground in some respects.

"I would say it already is a pontificate of firsts, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, the first Jesuit and the first to pick the name Francis," he said.

Swetland found clues in that name, which he believes may refer not just to St. Francis of Assisi, but also to two Jesuits named Francis. One was a great missionary, which might signal an interest in evangelism, and the other was known for reforming his order, Swetland said.

Gilad Chen, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, said every selection of a leader is a signal to those under him. He likened the cardinals' to a meeting of a corporation's board of directors to select a new CEO.

"By choosing Cardinal Bergoglio from Argentina, the Catholic Church has sent a signal of moderate changes to come," said Chen, adding that he comes from a business rather than religious background. "Moderate changes are likely to come with this pick because Cardinal Bergoglio is ... believed to be someone who will likely address the abuse scandals the church has been facing in recent years.

"However, Cardinal Bergoglio was also second to Pope Benedict during the last conclave, suggesting he's unlikely to lead to radical changes, in that he was already embedded deep in the system, so to speak," Chen said. "Thus, the signal in this choice seems mixed to me — some change ahead is likely, but it is more likely to be incremental or gradual change than a radical change."


Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Michael Dresser, Alison Knezevich, Carrie Wells and Larry Perl contributed to this article.