The Five Towns welcomes new pope

Religious leaders and congregants seek inspiration and tolerance


A pope of many firsts, the former Jorge Cardinal Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is considered a humble man who has cooked his own meals, used public transportation and possesses a great affinity for the poor.

Elevated to pope by a gathering of Cardinals on March 13, Pope Francis, 76, the first to take that name, is the first South American to be pope, the first from the Jesuit order and the first non-European to lead the Catholic Church in more than 1,200 years. He is the 266th pope in the Church’s history.

He was born on Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was ordained a priest for the Jesuits in 1969. He became a bishop in 1992. He was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1997 and succeeded Cardinal Antonio Quarracino in 1998. Three years later Bergoglio was elevated to the College of Cardinals on Feb., 21, 2001, in Rome.

Immediately after his election, the new pontiff said that another Cardinal from Argentina reminded him, “to not forget the poor.” The Rev. Eric Fasano, of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Inwood, said that Pope Francis’s reputation is of “a very humble, spiritual and effective pastoral leader,” who is known for his compassion for those in need. “I suspect that he will be an inspiration to many people both in word and deed,” Rev. Fasano said.

That inspiration is already energizing those in the Five Towns who are Hispanic. Lawrence High School senior Douglas Mendoza, of Inwood, said his mother was excited that the new pope comes from South America. “For me, he is a figure that transcends the boundaries of nations,” Mendoza said. “He lives in the country of God, not of human.”

Ruth Enriquez, of Cedarhurst, another Lawrence High senior, thinks that the election of a Cardinal from South America translates into greater diversity of the popes. “I definitely think he should focus on gay marriage and breaking the old traditions that have no basis in the Bible,” Enriquez said.

Pope Francis’s empathy for the poor could infuse the Catholic Church with a fresh perspective, according to Mendoza. “He is more in tune with average people, which is what the pope really needs,” said, Mendoza, who thinks the Church is focused too much on the past and needs to focus on love, understanding and caring. “Lots of popes are not in touch with the commoners.”

In his capacity as secretary general of the North American Board of Rabbis, an organization he founded to create greater understanding between the American Jewish community, foreign Jewish communities and governments, Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, of Temple Israel in Lawrence, met the former Cardinal Bergoglio on several occasions.

Rabbi Rosenbaum said that Pope Francis is friendly and charming, and demonstrated his openness by offering a prayer that the youngest Catholic child could recite the first time he addressed the masses as pope. “He is man of dialogue and at the same time formidable intellect and a priest of the people with a sense of humility, outreach and inclusiveness. Leaders of world Jewry can work with him.”