Pope Francis: Church leaders in Northern Ireland welcome appointment

Keiron Tourish looks at the local reaction to Pope Francis

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Leading church figures in Northern Ireland have welcomed the election of Pope Francis as the new head of the Catholic Church.

Catholic Bishop Donal McKeown said he hoped the new Pope would help the Church to begin a "new chapter".

He said he was confident Pope Francis would "deal with the terrible mistakes of the past" and bring hope for the future of the Church and its followers.

The Church of Ireland and Methodist church also welcomed his appointment.

Dr Richard Clarke, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, offered prayers for Pope Francis as he begins his new ministry, and Rev Kenneth Lindsay, president of the Methodist Church, offered his congratulations.

'New beginning'

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected in Rome on Wednesday evening, becoming the first pope from outside Europe in 1,300 years.

The Right Reverend Donal McKeown, auxiliary bishop of the Down and Connor diocese, said the appointment "marks a complete new beginning for all of us" and said Pope Francis "will break the mould in many ways".

Start Quote

I think it's wonderful to have someone who says 'I want to give a simple message of hope'”

End Quote Donal McKeown Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor

"That fact that we have somebody from a developing country, the fact that we have someone who is not in any way connected with the real centre of power, that fact that we have someone who has a clear reputation in his own country for leadership, for spirituality, is a sign that we're not looking for a power maker or a power broker," he said.

"We're looking for someone who will have the strength of his faith to lead and inspire a new generation to follow Christ."

The Rt Rev Donal McKeown said that although he did not know the new Pope in personal capacity, he was "excited" by the appointment .

'Challenges'

He added that he was confident that the cardinals had chosen someone who could help lead the Catholic Church through "these difficult times" and "deal with the terrible mistakes of the past".

The Catholic Church in Ireland has been plagued by a series of high profile child sex abuse scandals in recent years, and its hierarchy has been severely criticised for mishandling abuse allegations and failing to protect children in its care.

The Rt Rev Donal McKeown added: "The one striking thing about the new pope is that he's quite an old man and yet he must have the energy to tackle many of the challenges that certainly will face him."

The auxiliary bishop said it was very significant that the new pontiff had chosen the name Francis, in tribute to the "humble" monk from Assisi.

'Message of hope'

"I think this man is saying 'yes you've elected me and yes, you know the sort of person I am, and I am prepared to start out on a new chapter in a development of God's people.

"Working for simplicity, working for purification and working most of all to give hope and renewal, as the original Francis did in the Middle Ages, at a time when all in our society need so much encouragement.

"We've had politicians who let us down, the banks let us down, the media let us down, the Church let us down and I think it's wonderful to have someone who says 'I want to give a simple message of hope'," Bishop McKeown added.

Monsignor Eamon Martin, coadjutor archbishop to the archdiocese of Armagh, said the new pontiff would have an approach based on humility.

He said before the Pope gave his blessings "he turned to the people and asked them to pray for him first for them to bless him, so that he in turn could bless them.

Bishop Donal McKeown Bishop Donal McKeown said Pope Francis would break the mould of the papal office

"So he's really appealing to the Church on the ground, to people of faith on the ground, to be the Church."

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to become pontiff.

Belfast Jesuit Father Alan McGuckian said he was "totally shocked" as the order believed their role was to serve the Pope.

"I never believed there would be a Jesuit Pope," Fr McGuckian said.

"I always felt that was our role (to serve the Pope) and the idea that one of us would be a Pope never seemed to be on the cards.

"I get the impression that there's is a quality about him of austerity, humility and simplicity.

"He's the sort of man who's gone against the grain - as well as being humble, he's also a strong leader."

'Deal with abuse scandal'

Margaret McGuckin, of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse, said the new Pope needed to bring change.

"It was lovely pomp and ceremony, but at the end of it, we just wanted to know is this new Pope going to be different," she said.

"Is he going to get this debacle sorted out, face it, and not cover it up, or allow it to be covered up?

"In drawing younger people to the Church, the younger people would need to see action and this new Pope and the people around him dealing with sexual abuse.

"They've got to do this, they've got to face it."

In a statement, Dr Clarke of the Church of Ireland said the new pontiff "has been a champion of the needs of the poor and dispossessed, and, in the simplicity of his own lifestyle, he has sought to reflect the life of the much-loved saint whose name he now carries in the future, Saint Francis".

Methodist president, the Reverend Kenneth Lindsay, said Pope Francis brought "humility as well as intellectual and pastoral skills" to the papal office.

Pope Francis Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first pope from outside Europe in 1,300 years
'Simple lifestyle'

His humility was also something that struck the Irish journalist Gerard O'Connell, who previously met the new pope during a visit to the former cardinal's diocese of Buenos Aires.

"The first time I met him, I called him cardinal and he said 'no, please, I am father'. He said 'we don't need these titles, father is the perfect title'," Mr O'Connell said.

The journalist described how the then Cardinal Bergoglio lived a simple lifestyle in Buenos Aires, moving out of the bishops' palace in the city, opting instead to move into "two little rooms" in a church office.

He said he was also noted for his preference to take a bus rather than accept the offer of a limousine.

"I think we're going to see a very different style of papacy and I think Francis is right - that the central civil service of the Catholic Church is going to change," Mr O'Connell added.

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