ELLSWORTH, Maine — At St. Joseph Catholic Church on the corner of High and Main streets, the parish priest and parishioners both noted that it has been an exciting week for Catholics.
The Rev. Scott Mower remarked at the start of the service how the election of Pope Francis to replace the now Pope-emeritus Benedict comes at a special time. Sunday was the fifth Sunday of Lent, he noted, and also was St. Patrick’s Day, when many area Catholics celebrate their Irish heritage. And of course, it was the first Sunday since last week’s conclave that resulted in former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina becoming Pope Francis.
“It’s been a very busy week,” Mower said, with nods of agreement from parishioners. “I don’t know how we could fit in more this weekend.”
During his homily, Mower echoed a message the new pontiff delivered Sunday in Rome about God’s capacity to forgive. Mower even told the same gospel story as Francis, about a crowd of people who wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery but which dispersed and left her unharmed after Jesus told them “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Mower pointed out that Francis has no numeral after his new papal name and will not until another pope decides also to be called Francis. He said that, following Benedict’s historic resignation, the fact the the cardinals took only three days to elect a new pope who happens to be a Jesuit and who took a name that honors St. Francis, who was known for ministering to the poor, “should be very refreshing to us.”
Francis is the first pope from Latin America, where many of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live, and is the first to replace a still-living former pope in nearly 600 years.
Parishioners at St. Joseph Church also expressed enthusiasm for the new pope. Grace Poulin of Ellsworth said she thought the cardinals made a “great” choice in electing Francis.
“He smiles,” Poulin said, citing a reason she likes him. “I think that is a good thing.”
She added that she offered a prayer on Sunday for God to watch over him.
Sylvester Mays, an altar boy at St. Joseph, said he likes animals and was happy the new pope took the name of the patron saint of animals.
“I really like St. Francis and like that he took the name as Francis,” the Southwest Harbor 9-year-old said.
Dan Conte of Orland, the music director at St. Joseph Parish, said by taking a humble name, the new pontiff is helping to dispel the notion that Jesuits are somewhat elitist.
“I think he’s trying to counter that by taking the name Francis,” Conte said.
Conte added that he likes Francis’ reputation as a down-to-earth person, despite his history as a high-ranking official in the church. As a cardinal in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was known for riding local transit buses and cooking his own meals.
“That’s kind of rare among cardinals,” Conte said. “He seems like a great guy.”
The musical director added that, in addition to all the other unusual aspects of who the new pope is and of the circumstances that led to his election, it’s exciting to have him installed as head of the church during Lent and less than two weeks before Easter, the holiest of Christian holidays.
“It’s nice to have a new pope leading into Holy Week,” Conte said.