Bronx ushers in new pope

Pope Francis took the oath to lead the millions of Catholics, including those in the Bronx.
AP Photo/Angelo Carconi

Mary Jane Helmrich, principal of St. Francis of Assisi School received a text about it. Fordham University Theology Professor Father Joseph Lienhard witnessed it on television with two of his priest pals.

These two Bronx Catholics were just some of the millions who heard the news that circled the globe — a new pope had been elected.

Pope Francis, formerly Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, was elected pontiff to lead the Catholic Church, in turmoil given its shrinking followers and the smear of the sex-abuse scandal rocking the institution.

His ascension to the papal throne was certainly a Catholic curveball, said Father Joseph, surprised to see the College of Cardinals elect a Spanish-speaking Jesuit from Argentina as Pope.

Equally surprising was the adoption of the name Francis, a nod to St. Francis of Assisi, a 12th century saint who gave up his wealth at a young age to help the poor.

But picking the name seemed to make sense for Lienhard, given Pope Francis’ own “history in Argentina and concern for the poor.”

“Pope Francis has a lot more interaction with the people,” said Fr. Joseph. “Anyone who wants to ride a bus to work and lets people call him Father Jorge is eager to have contact with working class people.”

Helmrich of St. Francis of Assisi School agreed. “Our pope is going to be the people’s pope,” she said, happy her school has bragging rights over the name.

Fordham University, a Jesuit school, shared in the bragging rights, thrilled to see the new pope was an Jesuit archbishop.

“We have a Jesuit Pope,” said Fordham President Joseph McShane. “One whose work with and concern for the poor and disenfranchised is of a piece with Fordham’s mission and ideals.”

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., extended his well-wishes for Bronx Catholics.

“The Catholic Church plays an important role in the social and civic fabric of the Bronx,” said Diaz, praising the Catholic community “on this history-making decision.”

For now, Fr. Joseph thinks Pope Francis will change the direction of the Catholic Church with less focus on doctrine and more outreach, namely such hot-button issues as gay marriage and abortion.

“Abortion, in his mind, is a violation of Divine Law,” said Fr. Joseph. “And you can’t re-write the Ten Commandments –- thou shalt not kill.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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