New Pope a welcome surprise

THERE was a tangible buzz about Gippsland’s Catholic community last week with the appointment of Latin America’s first Pope.

In response to news Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been voted into the position of Pope Francis by his cardinal peers in a secret ballot, Gippsland Bishop Christopher Prowse said the decision had come as a welcome surprise.

“He wasn’t really seen as a favourite, and was older perhaps than what others were expecting, but so far in his public appearances he has come across extremely well,” Bishop Prowse said.

“His election has represented the enormous growth of the Catholic Church in that continent; now perhaps up to 50 per cent of (the world’s 1.2 billion) Catholics are found in Latin America.”

Known within Argentina as a champion of the poor – particular attention has been drawn to Pope Francis’ insistence on travelling on public transport – Bishop Prowse said his compassion would resonate across the globe.

“He has already shown a couple of traits that Australians will love; he is very simple and expresses himself as a humble man, has the common touch, he cooks for himself and prefers to live in humble setting – in an apartment rather than a big house,” Bishop Prowse said, adding it would probably take some time for him to adjust to his new 10-room papal residence.

“But even on (Thursday morning talking to crowds in St Peter’s Square) he did something I’ve never seen before; he stopped everybody and told them to be silent, and asked them to bow down and pray for him.

“It sends out special sign there is a closeness there to people; from everyone in St Peter’s Square there was a dead silence

– I haven’t quite seen that before and it was quite refreshing; there’s clearly a humanity in his personality people find common links with.”

Not afforded the opportunity to meet Pope Francis in a meeting with Cardinals in Rome last year, Bishop Prowse said it remained to be seen how the Pope’s Jesuit background and conservative views on abortion, same-sex marriage and birth control would play out on the global stage.

“That remains to be seen, ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ are really populist terms, and with his work as a Cardinal mostly been confined to South America, now we will have the opportunity to find out,” he said.

“He has a science doctorate from Germany, so he has one foot planted in a very sophisticated academic world and the other in a highly marginalised society where poverty is endemic.”