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Friday, December 19, 2014
Locals embrace selection of pope
Parishioners, diocese officials hope Pope Francis can rebuild church
Courtesy the Vatican
Pope Francis greeted the crowd in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City shortly after he was elected.

Eyes around the world were focused on the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City on March 13, as white smoke billowed from the chapel’s chimney, indicating that the College of Cardinals had selected a new pope.

Many of those eyes were right here in East Meadow. The Herald surveyed the reaction of the local community, and learned that the choice of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, now known as Pope Francis, came as a surprise.

The Rev. Ralph Sommer, of St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in Westbury, admitted that he was unfamiliar with the new pontiff, but said he grew increasingly fascinated as he learned his life story. “So far, I’m touched by some of his humble gestures,” Sommer said this week.

He said he was particularly impressed, when, before delivering the traditional pope’s blessing to Rome, Francis bowed before the massive crowd in St. Peter’s Square, asking them to bless him. “That is a very humble and a very open act,” Sommer said. “He really wants to engage in the community. And that’s really what a church is, isn’t it? A family community.”

Joann Heaney-Hunter, a pastoral associate at St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church in East Meadow, has taught theology at St. John’s University for 26 years. She said she was in a faculty meeting with her colleagues when she first heard the news. “Somebody said ‘White smoke,’ and we all just stopped,” she recounted.

The Mineola native said that Bergoglio was a top candidate for the papacy in 2005, but was not the subject of much attention this year because of his age. But Heaney-Hunter said she is pleased with the selection. “My immediate thought was that he was an absolutely beautiful, humble man who had the spirit of God in him,” she said. “I believed that he stood there in humility, and he asked the people of the crowd to pray for him before he blessed them.”

Pope Benedict XVI’s stunning resignation last month drew mixed reviews from Catholics, according to Heaney-Hunter. “There are some people who believe that the pope should stay as pope until he dies,” she said. “But many more believe that what Pope Benedict did took an enormous amount of courage and humility.”

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