Area Catholics hope Pope Francis can usher in a new era

Local clergy hope the selection of Pope Francis — the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years — will help move the Catholic Church forward.

“The last two popes were good and wise in their own way, but they were of the World War II era, and that’s now so far in our past,” said Father Russell Brown, pastor of the San Luis Obispo Mission. “I hope we move beyond that whole European tragedy towards the world of the 21st century.”

Although the selection of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was surprising for Brown, he said the new pope is well-regarded by clergy as a warm and humble man.

“His gifts are gifts of the spirit,” Brown said.

Furthermore, he said, Bergoglio’s selection has made the world happy by “reaching beyond Europe.” 

Father Matt Pennington, pastor of Nativity of our Lady in San Luis Obispo, echoed a hope that the new pope should be “sensitive to the modern age.”

Deacon Chuck Roeder of the San Luis Obispo Mission said he hopes Pope Francis will take hold of the reins of a church with “people” problems.

“I look at the church as a business ... we need someone with a strong arm, to help me as clergy, to direct me,” he said.

Roeder said he respects former Pope Benedict XVI for stepping down so that another person can help rectify the image of a church tarnished by sexual abuse scandals.

“Every church in the world has problems,” he said. “I hope and pray we have a man to lead and shepherd us to a better church.”

Sitting outside the San Luis Obispo Mission just a few hours after the papal announcement, church docent Pete Fisher of Arroyo Grande expressed his satisfaction that a Latin American has been selected as pope. Hopefully it will strengthen the church in Central and South America, where Catholicism has been losing ground to Evangelical Christianity, he explained.

But Fisher also took the news with a laugh.

“Francisco — that means he’s Pope ‘Pancho’ — it’s a cool name!” he said.