News Column

Hispanic Community Embraces Francis as Champion for the Poor

March 15, 2013

Solomon Leach

Although Santiago Cruz has never been to the Vatican or addressed throngs of faithful followers, he feels a strong connection to Pope Francis.

"It's a great opportunity to have a Latino pope at the Vatican. I'm really happy about it," said the 43-year-old Northeast Philadelphia resident. "We'll see if he brings different changes and more culture into the mix."

Cruz and many in Philadelphia's Latino community were still talking Thursday about the down-to-earth pontiff from Argentina who has been charged with moving forward a Roman Catholic Church that has suffered a deep divide.

The humility of Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was on display again Thursday less than 24 hours after his elevation. The pope picked up his own luggage and paid his hotel bill in the Vatican City. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was known for taking public transportation to his office.

Parents and students at Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary School in Kensington quickly picked up on the new pope's meek ways. Many have expressed hope that it will signal a greater emphasis in the church on aiding the less fortunate.

"He'll bring more knowledge as far as care for the poor, since he's from a poor community," said Virginia Rodriguez of Oxford Circle. "I'm looking forward to seeing him help more with the outreach. Not that the church doesn't do it now, but he's got more insight."

Juniata resident Federico Morales also said he is excited about a pope who some say is more in touch with the community than his predecessors, as evidenced by his namesake Francis, who was a pastor more than a manager.

"He is a very simple man, a humble man," Morales said. "That's important when you're trying to live by the word of God. That's what I like about him."

And while Francis is well-respected and was elected fairly quickly, he is not without issues. Some parishioners said they are concerned that his age, 76, and previous health concerns could make his papacy a short one, especially since Pope Benedict XVI resigned due to medical issues.

"I'm just afraid that he's not going to be there as long as we expect, like John Paul II [who was] there 20-some years," Morales said. "But we just leave that in the [cardinals'] hands and expect they'll do the right thing."

Cruz said he believes that the pope's age may limit his ability to connect with the younger population, something he a considers a priority for the church.

"I guess you can't win 'em all," he noted. "The only way to really connect with youth is to have a young pope eventually."

Source: (c)2013 the Philadelphia Daily News Distributed by MCT Information Services

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