Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'An absolutely wonderful man'

City archbishop says choice a 'big surprise'

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SCORE one for the Americas, said people at the city's lone Catholic aboriginal church, on the election of Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as the first Latin American pope.

"I'm happy it's not another European," said Joan Molloy, a member of St. Kateri Tekawitha Church.

She and husband Paul celebrated the news -- and not just because the new Pope is from South America -- with a glass of wine. "We toasted. I find it exciting because it's history-making," she said.

James Weisgerber, Archbishop of Winnipeg, found it exciting partly because he met and talked with the new Pope about a decade ago at a synod for bishops in Rome. "He's an absolutely wonderful man," said Weisgerber.

"I just found him so attentive, listening so carefully. He impressed me greatly. I always considered him a friend after that," he said.

The election was "a very, very big surprise" for Weisgerber.

Bergoglio was first runner-up for pope last time around but "wasn't even on the radar" this time because of his age, 76. Bergoglio didn't make the short list of three favourites, or the long list of 12, said Weisgerber.

The new Pope's cultural background seems ideal in a geopolitical sense. While the new Pope was born and raised in South America, a Catholic stronghold, his parents were Italians who moved to Argentina. That gives him a connection with Rome and Italian communities, said Rocco Curatolo, barber at Rocky's Men's Hair Styling and Royal Crown Replacements on Pembina Highway.

"Being Spanish and Italian is affiliated to the old cultures" while also appealing to new growth areas for the church, said Curatolo.

"It's definitely a pleasant surprise," said Mark Eismendi, president of the Argentinian Manitoba Association. There are about 1,000 people of Argentinian descent in Winnipeg, he said.

"Given the nature of the world now, and in order to strengthen the Catholic faith around world, it makes sense to choose someone from the Americas," Eismendi said.

Javier Mignone, an associate professor at the University of Manitoba, said some people believe Bergoglio was too closely associated with the dictatorship governments of Argentina between 1976-83.

"A sister of mine will be upset, and a brother (who is a priest in Vancouver) will be very happy," said Mignone, who emigrated from Argentina 20 years ago. The Pope's sister used to live in the same condo as Mignone's parents.

Pope Francis comes from a humble background. His father was a railway worker and the new Pope was known for taking public transit to work.

Pope Francis is not only the first Latin American pope but the first Jesuit pope. Jesuits are know for their intellectual vigour, leadership and being progressive, said Archbishop Weisgerber. Jesuits founded many universities.

At the aboriginal Catholic church in Winnipeg, where a council meeting was being held last night over a bucket of KFC and a pitcher of red Kool-Aid, people were happy about the new Pope but groaned that he is reportedly a conservative. "I think the church has to change to reflect the will of the people. If it's too far behind, I believe it will be left in the dark," said Chris Asham.

The bells at the college, as well as at Catholic churches, rang for five minutes when the new Pope came out on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Wednesday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2013 A4

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