News broke Wednesday that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose to be called Pope Francis I.
Locally, perhaps no one was more pleasantly surprised than Pastor Robert McKeon, who is the father at a West Nyack church that now shares a name with the pope, St. Francis of Assisi.
“The timing was good, and I got to watch with staff,” McKeon said. “Then we had some children coming in for religious study, so I was telling them as well and they had the same reaction: ‘that’s the name of our church.’ It was exciting.”
McKeon said that even without sharing a name, he and his congregants always have a connection to the pope.
“The pope is one of the most prominent teachers for the church because his documents, his pronouncements, they all get documented,” he said. “Sometimes you can even see them on video, and certainly you can read them because they have such importance. That certainly would affect even local communities like ours.”
McKeon wasn’t the only local religious leader excited by the selection, though. Monsignor John O’Keefe, of St. Margaret Church in Pearl River, and Deacon Jim Suchy, of St. Augustine Church in New City both also praised the selection.
“My initial reaction was surprise because you didn’t hear much about him when everyone was talking about the favorites,” Suchy said. “But I’m excited for him. He’s a Jesuit and I studied at Fordham Prep, a Jesuit school, so that made me happy.”
O’Keefe also said he was surprised with the selection, but said he thinks it’s a good pick, especially since Pope Francis I is the first pontiff from Latin America, and a large number of Catholics are Latin American as well. O’Keefe added he didn’t know much about the new Pope before, but O’Keefe was impressed during Francis’ brief introductory speech Wednesday.
“He’s humble, a listener and is going to look out for the poor,” O’Keefe said. “One thing he did that was different was before he gave his blessing, he asked the people for their blessing. That was pretty dramatic. He seemed like an individual who was quite comfortable with a crowd.”
All three local religious leaders also said they thought the conclave ended pretty quickly, with all adding they thought it would go on a few more days.
“Making the decision in that time, it’s an affirmation of him,” O’Keefe said. “It’s an affirmation of the Latin American community. It’s an affirmation of the church’s need to move on and deal with real work problems.”
O’Keefe added that the church is under this cloud currently and he hopes the new pope can help move the church forward.
“I hope he does anything to present the church in the best possible way, a way of happiness, consolation and faith,” O’Keefe said.
Suchy said he hopes the new pope can bring back members who have left the church.
“There are people who are Catholic or say they are Catholic but not longer go to church, or just go on big holidays,” Suchy said. “I would like to see him work on bringing some of those people back to the church.”
McKeon said he’d like to see the new pope work on unification.
“He has had a connection with what we call the eastern rite churches down in Argentina,” McKeon said. “I would love to see more of that unification. The eastern rite churches are like the orthodox churches. There are some of those ancient orthodox churches that are now in union with the Roman church, so they’re now one with us. But there are still others that are not. When I heard that about him, I thought that maybe could be beneficial for uniting the church because that makes an even bigger statement to the world.”