A pope of many firsts, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is known as a humble man who cooks his own meals, uses public transportation and has a great affinity for the poor.
Following his election by the conclave of cardinals on March 13, people from around the world quickly learned a great deal about the 266th pope, the first leader of the Catholic Church from the Americas, including parishioners at Our Lady of Peace in Lynbrook and St. Raymond’s in East Rockaway.
Tom Atkinson, a Lynbrook village board trustee, graduated from Our Lady of Peace School in 1984, and he and his family have been members of the church since the 1960s. Atkinson said he was encouraged when he saw the new pope emerge on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica last week.
The pontiff’s choice of the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, impressed Atkinson. “St Francis of Assisi was born into a wealthy family and lived in rags with the poor,” he said. “It undoubtedly represents an outreach to those that are less fortunate. That is a huge part of what religion and faith are about.”
In East Rockaway, Irene Villacci, a parishioner at St. Raymond’s, also said that the pope’s chosen name had great significance. “Pope Francis’s background was as a cardinal in Argentina during arduous political and economic times,” Villacci said. “He took the name of one of the Church’s greatest advocates of the poor … so I hope that he will concentrate on the Catholic Church’s mission of social justice, addressing the needs of the impoverished, the elderly and the disabled, the abused, and, of course, the future of our children.”
Al Barbarino, who has attended mass at St. Raymond’s since 1984, said that Francis possesses all the qualities he could want in a pope, including humility. When the pontiff addressed the crowd in St. Peter’s Square for the first time, Barbarino said, he was impressed with his speech and the silences that punctuated it. “The silence was so profound it literally brought me to tears,” he said, “because I felt like this really is a man of God.”
Atkinson said he admired the College of Cardinals’ selection of a pope from a continent other than Europe, since a large portion of the world’s Catholics are in Latin America. He added that because the Church was founded 2,000 years ago, it is slow to adopt significant change, but Atkinson said he is encouraged by its new direction.
“I think the decision to look forward, and the outreach involved, is quite encouraging as a Catholic,” Atkinson said. “Is the Church perfect? No, no organization is, but I’m pleased with the choice on a number of different levels.”
Jeff Bessen contributed to this story.