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Chicago Latinos embrace first pope from Latin America

A man kneels to pray to the Virgin Mary in the St. Pius V Parish Photo taken by Liset Ramirez
A man kneels to pray to the Virgin Mary in the St. Pius V Parish
Photo taken by Liset Ramirez

The day after Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, became Pope Francis, Catholics in Chicago continued to celebrate the election of the first man from Latin America picked to lead the church.

“I think it’s nice he’s not one of the in-crowd,” said Sister Suzanne Zuercher, a clinical psychologist who lives at St. Scholastica monestary, 7430 N. Ridge Boulevard. “He’ll look at life in a different perspective.”

Zuercher said she appreciated the simple outfit Francis wore as he addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday and liked his preference of a wooden cross, as opposed to the usual jeweled one.

“I like his emphasis on simplicity, on being an ordinary person,” she said.

Chicagoans on social media expressed mixed feelings about the announcement of the new pope, according to a review by ChicagoTalks

Francis served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2001, when he then became a cardinal. He is the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, the first from Latin America and the first Jesuit to be elected.

The Rev. Charles Dahm, an associate pastor at St. Pius V Parish in Pilsen, said Latino members of his parish are happy to have a South American Pope.

“The parishioners that I’ve talked to are very excited,” Dahm said. “They interpret this as a recognition of them. They feel honored and privileged and recognized.”

Catholic Teresa Fierro, 32, feels proud that Francis will be representing the Latin community. “He looks like he’s going to be a good pope,” she said, noting his charisma.

According to the Archdiocese of Chicago, there are as many as 277 Spanish-speaking masses each weekend, and as of January 2012, 7.6 percent of priests in the diocese were Hispanic. Hispanics now comprise 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.

The Rev. John Kartje of the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University said Francis will increase global awareness of the church.

“I think its significant having a pope from South America,” Kartje said. “It’s a new voice and a new awareness.”

Kartje also noted that Francis is known for his humility and simplicity and has been very outspoken about not overlooking the needs of the poor.

“There is great poverty right along side of great wealth, which goes far beyond Argentina and South America,” Kartje said.

Kellina Bruett, department chair at St. Benedict Catholic Preparatory school on the city’s north side, said the faculty and staff of the school are talking with students about the new pope. The election results were announced over the public address Wednesday afternoon. Teachers were asked to turn on live streams of the event.

“We were able to watch Pope Francis I speak to his flock for the first time live,” Bruett said.

Various newspapers, including Hoy on 18th street in Pilsen, highlight Pope Francis's election. The front photo displays his entrance to the public, with the headline, "We have Pope." Photo taken by Megan Ammer
Chicago newspapers, including the Spanish-language Hoy, carried coverage of Pope Francis’ election.The newspapers in this box on 18th street in Pilsen declared in Spanish, “We have a Pope.”
Photo taken by Megan AmmerRelated content

The theology department will encourage students to research the new pope and to focus on his life and ministry in Argentina, as well as his work with the poor and his religious order, the Jesuits, Bruett added.

The Rev. John Sanaghan from St. Matthias church in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood said the election of Francis won’t have an immediate affect on the average parishioner in Chicago. But he said there may be some changes in a few years when Cardinal Francis Eugene George, Archbishop of Chicago, retires.

“That will probably be the most obvious affect he has on Chicago,” Sanaghan said. “The pope will appoint a new archbishop when Cardinal George retires. We may see some changes then.”

Sanaghan also said the election won’t affect the day-to-day lives of most Catholics, but it might make a difference in terms of controversies.

“There has been a lack of trust in the church,” he said. “The new pope can either help that or hurt it.”

Dahm, the pastor at St. Pius V Parish, said Francis has to address the sexual abuse scandal.

“The church still has work to do in terms of correcting the abuse and making amends to victims,” he said.

In Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, which is heavily Latino and Catholic, Angeles Quezada, 50, watched the feed of Francis’ homily in her salon on Thursday morning.

She said her first impression of the pope was that he is a good guy. She feels that he can do either harm or good for the people he represents. “Only time will tell,” she said.

Barber Carlos Esparza, 33, who is not Catholic, was indifferent to the election of the new pope. He said he feels that in 2013, those who follow the pope and the Catholic Church need a younger leader to relate to.

Mireya Navarra, 36, is not a Catholic and said she feels like the pope is merely a person with a powerful title within the Catholic Church, nothing more.

“God is the only one I really look up to,” Navarra said.

Kacy Hintz, Liset Ramirez, Meredith Kavanagh, Ashli Teil, and Megan Ammer contributed to this story.


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