Cardinal Thomas Collins Photo by Michael Swan

Canadian cardinals cite Pope Francis' holiness, concern for poor

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • March 14, 2013

VATICAN CITY - Montreal's Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, speaking of newly elected Pope Francis, said he was "always struck by that man, who is a holy man, a man of prayer."

From his work with Latin American bishops on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Turcotte, retired archbishop of Montreal, said he has known the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires "for many, many years."

"I think he will be very close to the poor, all those who are best friends of Christ. Christ in the Gospel gave us the advice to be close to all the rejected persons, to all those people who suffer. And he has been that kind of man, and I am sure as Pope he is going to do the same as Pope," Turcotte told reporters March 14, the morning after he participated in the conclave that elected Pope Francis.

Turcotte, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto and Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, president of the Canadian bishops' conference, met with reporters to discuss the new Pope.

Turcotte told reporters, "He won't change the Gospel — don't be afraid of it — he will be very faithful to it."

At the same time, Turcotte said, Pope Francis likely will work to correct certain problems in the Church, "because the Church is composed of sinners. We are poor men, we have bad stories in the past and we cannot accept that."

The new Pope, he said, "will work to have the best, a better Church," adding that "I am sure, in a few years, we'll see that change."

Both Turcotte and Collins welcomed a Pope from the Americas, but insisted that was not a major factor in the conclave's choice.

"He's the bishop of Rome, but also the pastor of the universal Church. I can't speak for the other cardinals, but I certainly wasn't thinking, 'Let's look for this or that characteristic' in terms of location or whatever," Collins' said.

The Toronto cardinal rejected a reporter's premise that the biggest challenge facing the Catholic Church today is to find a way to adapt the Church to the modern world.

"I think the main challenge in life is for modernity to relate to the Gospel. It's not the reverse," he said.

"The Holy Father, each pope, has a different style or emphasis here or there, but the idea of adapting the Gospel to fit the passing fancies of the age is not what we're about. We're here to evangelize the world, not be evangelized by the world.

"The theme song of hell is 'I Did it My Way' -- and we're not into that," he said.

Smith said he was in St. Peter's Square when Pope Francis came out onto the balcony to greet the crowd March 13. When the Pope asked the crowd to pray that God would bless him, "I thought that was a beautiful, touching moment. He won over everybody's heart," the archbishop said.

"By the way he invited us to pray with him and for him, I think he signaled very clearly that prayer has to be at the centre of our life together as a Catholic people. The way he also emphasized the word fraternity again and again reminded us that the essence of what it is to be Catholic is to be in communion with and under Peter," Smith said.

While Smith agreed that the Pope's nationality was "a secondary consideration," he also said, "that doesn't mean it's unimportant."

Pope Francis comes from Latin America, which has known poverty and oppression, and "this is a man who has witnessed that firsthand and is known universally as one who is very, very close to the poor."

"That experience is something he now brings to the papal office, and I would expect that we will find in this man one who — in light of his experience and, of course, in light of his role to preach the Gospel — will remind all of us of our call to human solidarity, our call to be very, very close to the poor."

Smith said he expected the new Pope "to remind all of us, especially those who live in the first world, of our responsibility toward the needy and to examine our own lifestyles to say, 'OK, how does this contribute to the situation of my brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world?' ”

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