Manatee priest, experts struck with new pope's humble actions

rdymond@bradenton.comMarch 16, 2013 

MANATEE -- The new pope's first words in St. Peter's Square Wednesday were, "Brothers and sisters, good evening."

That surprised some papal experts, who expected Pope Francis to begin with something more formal, said the Rev. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College.

"Brothers and sisters in Christ would have been more expected," Bretzke said by phone Thursday when speaking about former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's initial utterance. "Usually, when the new pope comes out to the balcony for the first time, he makes a formal remark and gives a blessing.

"But this pope came out and, first of all, spoke Italian better than his last two immediate predecessors. His accent is better. He isn't speaking Spanish-Italian. I mean he was speaking genuine Italian. Then, he said, 'buona sera,' which is 'good evening' in Italian and his tone was not the stiff 'good evening' you might have heard Alfred Hitchcock say on his TV series. It was 'buona sera' in a conversational style, a casual tone, that struck a kind of intimate note.

"It wasn't flippant at all, but I would say the nuance in his voice was, 'Hiya guys.'"

Pope Francis and Bretzke are members of Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, a five-century-old Roman Catholic religious order that focuses on evangelization and education. The Jesuits form colleges, universities, seminaries and secondary schools, such as Jesuit High School in Tampa, Bretzke said.

"We are given a long training in different skill sets and this would be one of them," Bretzke said, referring to being humble and not thinking of oneself as above others. "Every Jesuit is supposed to pray an hour a day. We

reflect on self-examination two times a day for 15 minutes and pray another half hour."

Bretzke's own daily prayer, which he prays continually during the day, is, "Dear Lord, help me to see this situation the way you see it."

The Rev. Mark Heuberger, pastor of Saints Peter andPaul the Apostles Catholic Church in Bradenton since 2010, was also touched byPope Francis' Jesuit humility.

"I was watching on computer when he came out and he greeted the people in Italian and basically said, 'good evening, this is Francis,'" Heuberger said Friday. "He was very, very casual and the Italians responded in a tremendous way. He also didn't come out with all his garments, just his white cassock."

Heuberger also noted that the new pope tried to pay his hotel bill after being elected and, during dinner toasts, said to his brothers, "May God forgive you for what you have done."

As the cardinal in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio was referred to as Father George, lived in a small apartment and had no servant or housekeeper, Heuberger added.

"I think the Holy Father will be a great choice for us and a great service to the church," Heuberger said.

Heuberger is not a Jesuit but had many Jesuit priests as teachers.

"They commit to a rigorous theological education and teach many years before becoming a priest," Heuberger said. "They are recognized as scholars and missionaries. The French Jesuits were responsible for many Christian converts in Vietnam."

"Education is important to Jesuits," Bretzke said. "It is the way to change society. Jesuits focus on harmony and peace, nature and taking care of God's poor people.

"In Latin America, a lot of Jesuits work with the poor doing missionary work," added Bretzke, who was a missionary in Korea for a number of years. "We have retreat houses around the world where people can get away and figure out what God is asking them to do."

Although the Jesuits' involvement in schools often sweeps them into lively debate on such issues as birth control, same-sex relationships and ordination of women as priests, Bretzke doesn't feel the new pope will make changes in those areas.

"Will there be a change on those three fronts? I say no," Bretzke said. "But I think there will be a great possibility for change in others areas."

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