East County lays out hopes for the 266th pope

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the 266th pope last Wednesday, Father Charles Zach said it felt like a parent was back in the home.

“It’s our big connect,” the priest of St. Henry Catholic Church said of having a pope back in office 13 days after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

As they learned about the new pope last week, East County residents celebrated that Bergoglio was from Latin America and championed the rights of the poor.

They spoke about the significance of the name Pope Francis and the changes they would like to see under the new pope’s leadership.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Father Charles Zach, parish priest of St. Henry in Gresham, holds a San Damiano Cross, a smaller version of the one Pope Francis prayed to after being chosen as the new leader of the Catholic Church. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have heard a voice that said 'Rebuild my church' when he prayed before the original version of the cross.

“The first thing we want from our holy father is that he be the best CEO in the world,” Zach said.

The son of Italian immigrants, Pope Francis was born in Buenos Aires. Ordained in 1969, he became the archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and a cardinal in 2001.

The conclave elected him the first Jesuit, Latin American pope following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 28. The name Pope Francis honors St. Francis of Assisi.

“Considering his reasons for choosing the name Francis, and the fact that he is the first pope with that name, reveals to me that he going to be somewhat unique in his approach to dealing with the issues that our world is currently facing not only within our church,” said Matilde Flores, parish health promoter program coordinator with El Programa Hispano.

Pope Francis

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Pope Francis

Influenced by a childhood of poverty, the new pope suffered from a bout of pneumonia at age 21 and had part of his lung removed.

Today, he lives in a simple apartment and refuses to drive a car. When he checked out of his motel in Rome, he carried his own bags down and paid for his own bill. To Zach, the new pope’s selection of the name Francis, the saint of the poor, means everything.

“We can expect with the name Francis that the church will be reformulating how it operates, especially in dealing with the poor,” Zach said. “He is simply going to put an exclamation point behind what it is the church is to do universally throughout the world.

“We have terrible injustices in our world to correct,” Zach said. “There are very wealthy and very powerful people trampling on basic human rights. I’m assuming the name Francis is going to be very significant. He’s going to call for peace.”

Patrick Casey, a history instructor at Mt. Hood Community College, said that by taking a vow of poverty and doing what his community is supposed to do, the new pope will have the potential to make regular worshippers feel like they have a voice.

Sister Therese Gutting, an administrator of the Franciscan Montessori Earth School, agrees.

“I am very pleased he would choose a name near and dear to my religious community’s heart,” Gutting said. “He is certainly showing us his humbleness, his willingness to move the Catholic Church forward in the future. He exhibits humility, gentleness and a willingness to make decisions that won’t always be popular. St. Francis of Assisi believed he was called to rebuild the church, and I see the new pope as a man who will continue to live that same mission.”

At St. Therese School, many students skipped their recess and had lunch in the classroom so they could see firsthand who was chosen to be the new pope.

“The children were truly excited to hear that the new Holy Father had chosen the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi,” Principal Kathy Cordes, said. “St. Francis is one of their favorite saints because he loved and cared for the animals. The children were also excited to see what the new Holy Father looked like and watched eagerly as he stepped out onto the balcony.”


After Pope Benedict XVI came under scrutiny for his handling of sex abuse scandals, many in East County are looking to the new pope for leadership. They also hope to see change take root in the structure of the church.

“I hope that he deals with the sexual abuse allegations within the church in a way that truly reflects the church’s teachings and the need to protect the vulnerable,” Flores said.

“I would like to see him change the celibacy guidelines and allow those interested in the religious life (seminarians, nuns and priests) the freedom to choose whether they want to get married and meet their basic needs or to practice celibacy if that is what they prefer.”

Elizabeth Milliken, a history instructor at Mt. Hood Community College and Casey’s colleague, says huge changes are needed within the church, but doubts Pope Francis will deliver.

“My personal perspective is that the church is really going to need to change much more dramatically,” Milliken said. “He is a hard-liner on things related to sexuality, and it’s unlikely he’ll show deviation from the party line.”

Milliken said she was encouraged by the pope’s support of social justice teachings, but that the church’s focus on hierarchy, sex and sexuality can overshadow its positive social outreach. She would like to see the church consider the ordination of women, something she thinks Catholics worldwide would welcome.

Despite the new pope’s conservative social view on abortion, same-sex marriage and female priests, many in East County are heartened to see the first pope from the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere.

“The pope being from Latin America and born to immigrant parents means hope for the immigrant community in the United States,” Flores said.

Zach said the new pope’s message of peace could be a major unifying force. “We’re a very human church, made up of human beings. We trip up and fall, but despite it all, the Holy Spirit is guiding the church. We need to readdress that God is calling all of us to be a means of peace in a world so in need of it.”

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