Kansas City priests welcome Pope Francis, warn of challenges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The selection of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina to serve as the new leader of the Catholic church caught nearly everyone in Kansas City by surprise, including local priests, who greeted his selection hopefully but warned of challenges ahead for the global church.

"He was so warm. I'm struck. I'm kind of overwhelmed by his humanity," said Father Mark Kramer of Rockhurst University, who watched the Pope's first appearance online from his office in Kansas City. 

"The way he came out. He didn't have a prepared speech to give. He really wanted to engage the people that were there in the plaza and talk about there being a journey together," Father Kramer continued. "Taking a journey together and ask for their prayer in the beginning. It was such an act of humility."

That humility could serve the new Pope well, Father Kramer said, as he transitions into the role of leader of a global church, with global problems.

"Francis the first will walk into his office in the Vatican to a very very enormous plate of a lot of trials and tribulations and a lot of things that are going on in the church at the present time," said Father Denis Ryan, priest at the Redemptorist Church in midtown Kansas City.  

Many Vatican observers had expected the conclave of cardinals in Vatican City to select a younger leader for the church, but Kramer said that despite Pope Francis' advanced age, the 76-year pontiff could bring a new strength to the role.

"He looked solid. He didn't flinch. He looked serene, but there was also kind of a strength there I thought just to look at him," Kramer said.  "A peacefulness, but also a strength."

That strength, too, could be needed by the new leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.

"From the first day he hits the carpet in his office in the Vatican he will be running because he's got to get brought up to speed to where the church is and what's going on," Father Ryan said. 

The election of Pope Francis was also welcome news to Hispanic Catholics in the Kansas City area.

"People need to understand the Latin American people, we are not a third world country anymore. People need to know we are everywhere," said Raiza Guevara, a local church volunteer. "I think this is a way for people to understand they need to pay more attention to us."

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Syed Shabbir contributed to this report.

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