Diocese is thrilled, endeared and challenged by Pope Francis

Photo Caption: Excited, ecstatic, heartened . . . these are just a few of the words persons from around the Diocese of Peoria are using to describe their reactions to the first days of Pope Francis’ pontificate.

EDITOR’S NOTE — The Catholic Post invited reactions to Pope Francis after the first days of his pontificate from several representative individuals in the Diocese of Peoria. We invite readers to add their own comments to this list by emailing them to cathpost@cdop.org. Put “Pope Francis” in the subject line.


Father Gregg Petri, OFM
Parochial vicar, St. Mary’s in Bloomington

“I’m ecstatic. I feel that my hope has been renewed. It seems like a breath of fresh air to me. . . . The fact that he chose the name Francis is just super. To me everything he’s done so far says it’s a new era.
“For the Latino community it is an affirmation of their deep faith. They have such a reverence for the pope and in general. This is such an affirmation for them that it’s someone from their part of the world. It’s really important. I just think his whole manner speaks volumes. His whole sense of humility says, ‘Follow me.'”


Tom Pelger
Council president, Diocese of Peoria, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

“It is thrilling to hear Pope Francis’ call to ‘protect all of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison’ and to be ‘men and women who bring hope to others.’
“The members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul try to live out that call in our service to the poor in our communities — through our food pantries and in our home visits, providing emergency assistance to those in need. Vincentians try to bring the hope of Christ to those we serve through our caring, our service and our prayers with them. Pope Francis will be an inspiration to us, and we pray that his focus on the least of our brothers will call others to this ministry of love and service.”


Father Fredi Gomez Torres
Episcopal Vicar for Hispanic ministry and pastor, Holy Cross in Mendota

“I’m very happy because the universal church has a new pope. This is the most important thing for me. God sent the one who is leading the universal church.
“For me, personally, it brought a lot of happiness to my priesthood, to my life. It also gave me something to work on, to see the pope being very humble, being very close to the people. I need to work on leaving the office and being close to the people. This is what makes me very happy about the new pope.
“I think we have a little more attachment to him because he’s part of our own culture, because we see him more as a father who can understand a little more about our needs, our faith, our background. (He is) not in his own home, not in his own land, not (speaking) his own language. So the feeling is he’s going through the same thing many of us are going through here, but I pray he gives us the hope and wisdom to understand that even if we are not in our own land we are part of the universal church.”


Father Larry Zurek, OFM
Pastor, Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s in Peoria

“As a Franciscan Friar I was surprised, yet overwhelmingly delighted, that our new Holy Father chose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi. Early on in his conversion, St. Francis was praying before the crucifix in the run-down church of San Damiano, praying for direction in his life. The Lord spoke to him from the crucifix and told him to repair his church, which was falling into ruins.
“At first St. Francis set out to literally rebuild this church with brick and mortar. Eventually he came to realize God was calling him to something far greater — to rebuild his Church made up of living stones. I believe this incident in St. Francis’ life has a special meaning for our new Holy Father. (In) his deep love and concern for the poor, the outcast, the little ones who are often overlooked by the rest of society, he sees as a focus of his ministry as Universal Shepherd and as a means of rebuilding the Body of Christ, his Church.
“Kindness done to the poor will never be forgotten. As Jesus told us, ‘As often as you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’ Pope Francis has brought that to the front and center of his Petrine ministry. I believe his example and the taking of the name of our father, St. Francis, will renew that commitment for each of us Franciscans, be we priests, Brothers, Sisters, or secular members of the Franciscan family. St. Francis wanted his Brothers to be known as Lesser Brothers, the Order Friars Minor, thus the initials behind our names, OFM.
“Our outreach to the poor through our sandwich program (at St. Joseph’s) is one way we try to identify with the poor. Our 90-plus volunteers who work at Sophia’s Kitchen truly have a Franciscan heart. I pray our new Holy Father will inspire the Church to truly be a voice for the voiceless, a defender for the defenseless, and a companion to those who feel alone. May God bless him a hundredfold!”


Sister Ana Pia Cordua, SCTJM
Executive director, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria

“We are experiencing a great joy in our hearts at the election of our new pope, our new Vicar of Christ and spiritual father. His Holiness is giving us a great example of humility, leading us to divest ourselves of what is mundane, of what overshadows the beauty of charity and everything that is gentle, beautiful and truthful.
“We rejoice also in the fact that our new spiritual father, ‘El Papa Francisco,’ is a son of the continent of Hope, and a faithful son of Our Lady Mary, the Mother of the New Evangelization.”


Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF
Major superior of The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis
and chair of OSF Healthcare System

“The election of a new pope is always a special gift from God to His people and so our Sisters received this most recent gift of Pope Francis with deep joy and gratitude. We are delighted that he chose the name Francis and even more delighted to learn that he intentionally chose the name after St. Francis of Assisi. The more we learn about him and now hear and read his comments in these early days of his papacy, we recognize the wonderful synergy he already possesses with his namesake: charity, humility, simplicity and a special love for the poor. The gift is perfect for our times.
“Our prayer is that he leads us, in his own words, ‘to be a church that is poor and for the poor,’ which is surely the mind and heart of Christ. We have a Jesuit pope who has a Franciscan heart! God is taking good care of us and His world.”


Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB
Prioress, St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island

“The Sisters here in Rock Island welcome Pope Francis as our new leader of the Roman Catholic Church and join with others around the globe in offering prayers for him as he begins his sacred ministry.
“Personally, I am heartened that Pope Francis is from South America; he will bring a new international perspective to leadership at the Vatican. His opening focus on simplicity, care for all God’s people and respect for all creation is stirring and, I believe, appeals to all people of good will. I am hopeful that he will encourage all of us to work together to make the light of Christ’s love shine more brightly in the world.”


Sister Paula Vasquez, OSF
President, Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception in West Peoria

“These words of St. Francis express for me the message of our new Pope Francis: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words.’ In the days since his election, in my excitement, I have read a lot about him and this passage from St. Francis seems to so aptly describe his way of life and the focus of his papacy.
“The love of God for His people expressed through our recent popes is so evident to me — the charisma of John Paul II; the leadership of Benedict XVI and his courage to resign when he truly felt he could no longer fulfill his ministry; and now the Franciscan touch of Pope Francis as he witnesses to the world in the daily living of his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
“My prayer for Pope Francis and the Catholic Church can be summed up again in the words of St. Francis: “All praise be yours, My Lord. . . .”

Sister M. Loretta Matas, DSF
Provincial Superior, Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi in Lacon

“‘Habemus Papam!’ We heard these words during our annual retreat. It was an unusual situation and we broke the silence, sitting in front of the TV with joy and excitement as we awaited our new Vicar of Christ. Suddenly it was announced that he was Jorge Mario Bergoglio — a Jesuit, a member of a religious community, from Argentina, and he took the name Francis for St. Francis of Assisi. We were full of joy!
“St. Francis understood the least fortunate people. Our Holy Father Francis is from a poor country. I believe that he is showing to the entire world the most important value of life: respect for human life. This is our mission — to be there for the people who need us the most, to show them that they are very important in every stage of life from conception to natural death, and to show them how to accept suffering in their life. . . .
“Our Holy Father is God’s providence in this present life. As he said in his homily of inauguration: “We need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope!”


Deacon Ausencio Vargas
Assigned to St. Mary’s Cathedral and involved in pastoral care at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, both in Peoria

“I feel happy for us as Hispanics. We know that he understands our language, our feelings and our culture and not only understands it, but lives it because it’s in his blood and he identified himself with us. We know that even though the official language at the Vatican is Italian he will feel the inclination to speak Spanish when he has the opportunity because we are all human beings and that’s our tendency. We know that it will not make any difference to anyone, though, because he is the pope and our spiritual father and he will love everyone the same. I am really proud of him.”


Msgr. Richard Soseman
Congregation for the Clergy, Vatican City

“I saw a picture posted with St. Peter’s (Basilica) and the words, “new administration, se habla espanol.” The largest percentage of Catholics in the world, especially in Latin America, speaks Spanish, so it is great that a native speaker has been elected pope. I am sure he will touch many hearts during his visit to South America this year for World Youth Day.
“People are excited with the election of the new pope. Even those Italians who normally don’t practice seem enthused and touched by the new Holy Father. His openness and enthusiasm, stopping the popemobile, for instance, when he recognizes a face in the crowd, have very much endeared him to the average man and woman on the street.
“Pope Francis has chosen his name because of St. Francis of Assisi, a man of radical faithfulness to the Church, and of radical living of poverty. We are reminded of our need to live simply and to reach out to those most in need, who either suffer materially, or who suffer spiritually. Pope Francis also brings to mind two others who are St. Francis — St. Francis Xavier, whose missionary spirit was unparalleled, and St. Francis de Sales, who taught that living simply sometimes means accepting burdens and obligations of one’s high office as penances.
“Pope Francis, as any pope, has already given up so much to serve the Church as Supreme Pontiff. He is an example to all of us as we meet our own burdens and obligations.”


Deacon Tom Otto
Seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary

“As I watched the TV screens with all of my seminarian brothers in our Rec Room at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, the feeling of excitement and anticipation in the room was something like what one would experience before the last play of the Super Bowl . . . and then, when Pope Francis came out onto the Loggia, we just exploded into applause and cheers! Once things quieted down enough to hear his name and his country of origin, I was absolutely thrilled. I think I just repeated the phrase ‘Praise God!’ over and over.
“To have a man of such powerful personal witness — a witness of simplicity, humility, poverty, and love — as our new Holy Father moves me very deeply. That the Holy Spirit has chosen this man, for this ministry, for this time in the history of the Church and the world, immediately struck me as something very encouraging and even emboldening in our blessed and grace-filled mission to bring the Gospel to the people of our day.
“The immense significance of the timing of this event for me personally (immediately preceding my ordination to the priesthood) was certainly not lost on me either. In many ways, the example and ministry of our new pope has already been a personal call to renewal for me — to renew myself in simplicity, in single-heartedness, in intensity of love, and in radical surrender to the One who knows and calls each one of us by name. I couldn’t be more excited to begin my life as a priest at this moment in the life of the Church. Praise God!”

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