Skokie, Lincolnwood Catholics all smiles for new pope
Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio, elected Pope Francis I, appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican after being elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. | Vincenzo Pinto/Getty Images
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:08AM
SKOKIE — A day after history was made at the Vatican, Alaa Tomas came to St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Skokie to pray.
Part of his prayers Thursday were for the new pope, and when asked his reaction, he lit up with an optimistic smile.
“I think he will serve the people well and rectify the faults of the church,” he said.
Though some Catholics expressed surprise at the naming of Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio (who has since taken the name Pope Francis I), that was not the case for Tomas, a four-year Skokie resident.
“I personally expected a Latin pope,” he said. “There’s a lot of Catholics in that area.”
It’s likely that the smile on Tomas’ face was echoed by many Catholics all over the world this week.
The Rev. Dennis O’Neill of St. Martha Catholic Church in nearby Morton Grove said he was pleased that the cardinals chose someone from the Southern Hemisphere where the majority of Catholics live.
“I’m glad it’s someone from South America,” he said. “I was hoping it would be someone from the Southern Hemisphere.”
It was a day of surprises and firsts when the cardinals made their selection. Few believed that the white smoke would rise so early in the process or that Bergoglio would emerge as the new pope. Never before has a pope been chosen from his part of the world, never before has a pope been named Francis.
O’Neill called the name Francis “the universal sign of peace.”
Catholic Isabella Listoni of Skokie was dropping off her neighbor’s children Thursday at St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
“It’s an exciting day,” she said. “There’s now an opportunity for more peace in the world. He’s a humble man who will be good for Catholics and the whole world.”
Margaret O’Rourke of Lincolnwood called the selection “inspired.”
“It’s a new beginning,” she said. “It’s an exciting day for Catholics here and everywhere.”
That thought was echoed by George Mohrlein, a part-time lay employee of St. Lambert’s Catholic Church in Skokie.
“I’m very, very pleased,” he said. “I can’t say I’m surprised because I only knew a few names like Cardinal George or Cardinal Dolan. So anyone other than those, I would not have known.”
Mohrlein, a lifetime Skokie resident and member of St. Lambert’s, has been learning about the new pope and he likes what he hears and sees.
“He’s a good choice because the cardinals chose him after much prayer,” Mohrlein said. “The Holy Spirit chose him.”
What especially impresses Mohrlein about the new pope is that “he seems to be a man of the people.” Mohrlein noted that following the selection, he got on the bus with the other cardinals to have dinner.
The new pope, 76, is known as a humble man who often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums of Argentina’s capital.
“He’s right there in Mother Teresa territory if you ask me,” Mohrlein said.
According to some reports, he came close to becoming pope last time by gaining the second highest vote total in several voting rounds before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
Bergoglio was born Dec. 17, 1936 to Italian immigrants in Buenos Aries. Besides his native Spanish, he also speaks Italian and German.
He was ordained a Jesuit in 1969.
– Sun-Times Media contributed