Pope Francis is pleasing New Hampshire Catholics in style and substance.
Four months on the job, the pope’s words and actions are shaking up the church and that’s just fine with worshippers in the Granite State.
“I think he’s doing fantastically,” said Leo Hart, a parishioner at St. Matthew’s Parish in Windham. “He’s showing a great connection to the poor and downtrodden.”
Francis has rejected the official papal apartment at the Vatican for a simpler guest house, visited slums in Brazil and wandered away from his security guards to mix with the people.
He has asked clergy to get out of the rectories and into their parishes to do good.
This week, he is talking up a bigger role for women in the church, although ruling out female priests, and saying he will not judge gay priests.
“I didn’t think he would be as forthcoming quite so soon,” said Judi Ryan, a member of Saints Mary and Joseph Parish in Salem. “I’m surprised and delighted. He’s starting to make some waves and I applaud him.”
Ken Dunne of St. Patrick’s Parish in Pelham said the pope is doing a great job and he likes him very much.
“It’s like he’s taken a vow of humility,” Dunne said.
Southern New Hampshire Catholics believe the papal conclave made the right choice.
“Everybody I’ve been in contact with is excited about his message,” said Bob Guyre of St. Matthew’s Parish in Windham. “He’s the right guy.”
Practicing Catholics don’t see the pope’s stance on gay priests as being inconsistent with church teachings.
Traditional church values do respect gay people, Hart said.
“The old church adage, ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner,’ is being played out by him,” Hart said.
“The Catholic Church doesn’t judge homosexuals,” he said, “it judges the homosexual act.”
Shirley Thomas of St. Jude’s Parish in Londonderry said the pope is being true to the Bible.
“According to the Bible, we’re not supposed to judge anybody,” Thomas said. “I can’t blame him for quoting from the Bible.”
Catholic women are eager to hear more about what the pope has in mind for them.
“I’d like to know what he means by a bigger role,” said Ann Morrier of St. Anne’s Parish in Hampstead.
Morrier agrees with the pope about not ordaining women as priests.
“If you didn’t have male priests, there wouldn’t be a man in the building,” she said. “Women’s natural spirituality overruns the place.”
Ryan said she doesn’t expect women priests in her lifetime, but sees an opportunity for them to do more in worship.
“I think the role for women will be more in eucharistic services,” she said.
Those are services lay people can lead, distributing Holy Communion after a priest has previously consecrated the host.
“If they are allowed to perform eucharistic services that would be absolutely fantastic,” Ryan said.
Dunne said Francis is upholding what every other pope has said about women priests since St. Peter and is really suggesting a greater role for women at church levels such as parish councils.
Catholics are giving good reviews on the pontiff to their pastors.
“Everything that I am hearing from my parishioners is positive,” the Rev. Bruce Czapla of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Derry said.
“The reaction has definitely been positive,” agreed the Rev. John Michalowski of Saints Mary and Joseph in Salem. “People are excited.”
Michalowski describes Francis as warm, human and energetic.
“He’s opening doors to a lot of people in the church,” he said.
Of the titles Francis legitimately has, he seems to prefer “Bishop of Rome,” Czapla said.
“That in itself says a lot about his sense of solidarity with his brother bishops,” he said.
His simple lifestyle is showing solidarity with the poor, Czapla said.
“His refusal to be judgmental because of imposed, or even self-assumed, labels tells us about his solidarity with the marginalized and those struggling for worldly legitimacy,” Czapla said.
The pope’s effort to reach young people in Brazil didn’t escape notice among Catholics.
“I’m glad he’s traveling out to youths,” Sister Josette Parisi of Windham said.
“Thousands upon thousands of teens and young adults enthusiastically responded to the Holy Father’s call to get out of their comfort zone and bring the faith where it is truly needed,” Czapla said.
Michalowski, a Jesuit, admits he’s prejudiced in his views about the first Jesuit pope.
“I think he’s very much in the line of Jesuit spirituality, calling on us to find God in all things,” Michalowski said.
Francis isn’t caught up in those perks that come when a pope meets the presidents of countries as an equal, he said.
The pope instead is concentrating on faith and justice, Michalowski said.
“Those are two very strong Jesuit principles that very much affect his life,” he said.
Catholics say Francis is a refreshing change from the reserved, scholarly Benedict and reminds them more of the globetrotting John Paul II or John XXIII and his church reforms of the 1960s.
“I think we’re all very high on him,” Hart said.
An image of Francis kneeling in the back of a church struck Hart.
“He’s not making a big show,” he said.
He’s setting a good example, Dunne said.
“He’s not living a lavish lifestyle like a king,” he said.
Catholics are hearing the message and agreeing.
“I think more should be done to help the poor,” Thomas said.
Czapla said he had never seen a pope use a handkerchief in public until Francis.
“And yet he knows who and what he is — the vicar of Christ and the successor of St. Peter and he takes that job very seriously,” Czapla said.
The Catholic faith represents a 2,000-year tradition, he said.
“He just wants us all to take it seriously,” Czapla said.