USD students react to new pope

By Rashmi Chugani

White smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel on March 13, announcing to the world that the Catholic Church has selected a new leader. The 115 voting cardinals elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 76-year-old Argentine as the new Pope.

Cardinal Bergoglio chose Francis as his papal name. Though he has not revealed from which saint he chose his papal name, it is most likely that the choice is a reference to St. Francis of Assisi, a man revered amongst Catholics for his commitment to the poor and his love of animals. St. Francis was a man who gave up comfort to join the beggars, in keeping with Christ’s ideal to live simply. The pope’s choice of nomenclature has been said to be a reference of his own humility and ministry for the poor, according to The Seattle Times.

The election brings a few firsts to the Catholic world. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to serve in the highest office of the Catholic Church. Members of the Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits are formally known, take oaths of poverty, chastity and discipline when entering this religious order. Currently, Jesuits are the largest organization of religious men in the Church according to The New York Times. Perhaps what they are best known for today is running highly rigorous universities such as Georgetown, Boston College and the Loyolas.

Another first is that this is the first pope to have ever been chosen from outside Europe. The Pew Research Center shows that Argentina has the 11th largest Catholic population in the world with 31 million Catholics. Further, the highest concentration of Catholics in the world can now be found in Latin America, at 39 percent.

For senior Lauren Matkaluk, a regular at USD mass on Sunday evenings, Pope Francis’ roots are something to be excited about.

“It’s the sign of an expanding, and hopefully more inclusive, Church,” said Matkaluk. “I think it is exciting that this is really the first Pope of the Americas. It’s a sign that we live in a globalized world and that the Catholic Church has left some of its Old World traditions behind to advance with modern times.”

Indeed, the Church today is at conflict with many social issues that arise in the US today. Last election season, it was not uncommon to hear debates about abortion, same-sex marriage and birth control. All of these continue to be a part of the national conversation, yet have been heavily frowned upon by the Vatican in the past.

Kaitlyn Philpott, a senior who describes herself as “very Catholic” is hopeful that the new Pope will signify progress on these issues.

“At a time when it is not uncommon to hear about sex scandals within the Catholic Church, I hope that Pope Francis will take a stand in the direction of progress,” Philpott said.
As a pre-med student, Philpott holds a very strong opinion on the issue of health care.

“I am especially hopeful that Pope Francis will take a stand to say that birth control can be freely used by Catholics, not because it is a sexual use, but because it is a health issue for so many women around the world,” Philpott said.

While Catholics weigh in their opinions about the election of Francis, USD has already embraced the new Pope and offered the Mass of Thanksgiving in his honor on March 19 during dead hours. During the mass Monsignor Daniel Dillabough stated that it was a “historic day in Church history” given that March 19 happened to be Pope Francis’ first official day as well. Dillabought also expressed hope that “through the pontificate of Francis the Church will grow.”

USD senior Thomas Nolan was present at the Mass of Thanksgiving. He is a practicing Catholic and hopes for betterment in the Church.

“I’m hopeful for Francis,” Nolan said. “He was not on my list of cardinals that I wanted or expected, but I think he might be a step in the right direction for the Church. Though I don’t see him making drastic changes in his papacy, I do think the groundwork will be set for a new reinvigorated Church.”