South Florida Catholics celebrate new pope

03/13/2013 6:49 PM

03/14/2013 1:54 PM

The selection of an Argentine pope astounded and thrilled his countrymen and women in South Florida, one of whom actually met him when he was still Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Christine Galan of Kendall traveled to Rome five years ago with her cousin, Moyda DeWinter, of Buenos Aires.

“My cousin had an appointment with the cardinal from Argentina and that was him,” said a joyful Galan. “He had given her and me a rosary and a prayer and that was very exciting. I am going to have to find that rosary!”

Wednesday afternoon, Galan recalled the connection with tears in her eyes.

“I’m so happy that they appointed a pope who took that name, Francis, from St. Francis of Assisi, a very humble saint of the Church that took care of the poor,’’ she said. “I’m very excited about him. He wants to evangelize – meaning to spread the good news.”

Marcos Moreno Bo, 41, who owns of Milanezza, a Key Biscayne Argentine restaurant, believes that all the attention to a Hispanic pope will attract more people to the Church and change the way the world see the country he left as a teenager.

“People will look to Argentina with other eyes," he said.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski also thinks that choosing a Latin American makes sense. Talking to reporters as the news broke, he noted that Latin America, as the recently-retired Pope Benedict described it, “is the continent of hope,” the region with the fastest-growing growing Catholic population.

Argentina, Wenski added, “has a lot of the same problems we have here. [Pope Francis] comes from the New World. Hopefully that brings some new ideas.”

He added that the Pope’s age, 76, shouldn’t stop him from connecting with young believers.

Teresa Jantus, 83, who returned to Argentina in 2009 after 20 years in Miami, said she most values the new pope’s “convictions. With prudence and respect he always says what must be said.”

German Elizalde, 75, is vacationing in Miami from Buenos Aires, and called the Argentinian pope “a fabulous man...With this great responsibility, I hope he can transmit to the people what he transmitted in Argentina.”

Not only were Argentines in South Florida ecstatic; Jesuits were as well.

Pope Francis I is the first pontiff ever from the Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatus of Loyola in mid-16th Century Spain.

Pedro A. Suarez, S.J., president of Belen Jesuit Prep, called the new pope’s election “an unexpected turn of events [and a] pleasant surprise.”

Coming from a religious order then becoming a bishop “adds a religious dimension to his pastoral work,” Suarez said. “He has knowledge of situations and problems that he will be able to handle properly. He’s a fine theologian with a good mind.”

Among those celebrating at Belen: Ryan Rodriguez, a 14-year-old ninth grader from Kendall whose parents hail from Cuba and Colombia.

“Coming to a Jesuit school and being part of this community, it’s exciting,’’ he said. “We’re witnessing history.’’

Francis I “will be very involved in problems around the world and will attend to them as best as he can. He’ll be teaching the Ignatian way, as he was taught.”

The Ignatian way, said teacher Carmen Villafane, involves “a perspective that is very universal, that takes into consideration different cultures, and like Jesus, meeting the person where they are...If we don’t understand each other, we can’t work together.”

Villafane, 48, said she was “chilled and elated’’ by the choice of a Jesuit, and a humble man.

“The power he wields can be so empowering to others,’’ she said. “He is leading us into a new moment. He seems very down to earth and simple in the sense of not allowing status to get in the way of his being a real person...’’

Few know better how Francis I’s humility might prove to be a challenge at the Vatican than Miguel Diaz, the Cuban-American U.S. ambassador to the Vatican during the first Obama administration.

The rarified atmosphere “took quite awhile to get used to,” said Diaz, now a professor of faith and culture at the University of Dayton. “But if he doesn’t forget his origins, he will not only provide a great leadership in the Church but to the world.”

He hails from a country of immigrants rife with violence and poverty, which will “undoubtedly impact the way he governs,” Diaz said.

He especially likes that the new pope chose the name Francis because God told St. Francis of Assisi: “Rebuild my church,’’ and the Catholic Church, reeling from scandal, again seeks to rebuild.

“What is also significant is that Francis is the example of...servant leadership we need today. We need a pastor who has compassion...’’

Jorge Lemma, a Miami Beach stylist, cried when he heard the news. The Argentine native came to the U.S. 32 years ago.

“I got a little emotional,” he said. “It’s my country, and...I never would have expected it.”

Herald writers Barbara Corbellini Duarte and Margaux Herrera contributed to this report.

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