After a day of deliberations the Papal Conclave at the Vatican made an unexpected but highly welcomed choice for the new leader of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis I from Argentina was warmly received by the faithful all over the world on Wednesday evening.
Leaders of the Czech Catholic Church, as well as historians and politicians were among those who expressed excitement at the choice of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Like others from around the globe, Czechs voiced high hopes for the non-European, socially-conscious leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
A catholic priest, professor and a well-known public figure Monsignor Tomáš Halík made no secret of the fact he was elated with the conclave’s decision:
“I have to say, I am very excited. Most of all, I am thrilled because he is a Jesuit. Jesuits are the intellectual elite among Catholics, and are among the most intelligent and educated people in the world. They are also very open, which is why they are often criticized. I am also happy that this is a man with a substantial academic background.”
The Archbishop of Olomouc, Jan Graubner, expressed the hope that the fact that Pope Francis comes from Latin America will help the often Euro-centric church re-focus on issues of global importance. Coming from a country where the majority of the population has neutral or even negative views of Catholicism, Archbishop Graubner said a pope from outside Europe might bring much needed energy to the Church:
“For today’s Europe, that is somewhat tired and weary, it would be very beneficial to forge closer ties with Latin America, which is full of life.”
Many commentators noted the significance of the name that Cardinal Bergoglio had chosen for himself (referring both to St. Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier) as well as the open and humble address he gave from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis, first as a priest and later as archbishop, has been known for addressing issues of poverty and social inequality. Theologian and priest Miloslav Fiala hopes that his sympathy towards the less-privileged will reflect in the pope’s future work:
“The challenge for him will be to bring his experiences from a socially turbulent region to the leadership of the global church to help it open up not only to those who are socially disadvantaged but to all people around the world.”
Beside Catholic dignitaries, the head of the Czech Ecumenical Council of Churches, Joel Ruml, also said that he saw an indication in the new Pope’s first speech that he wants to have a more open relationship with other Christian churches.
The Czech Catholic community is hoping that one of the first foreign visits of the new pope will be to the Czech Republic for the July celebrations of the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius in Moravia.
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