American Catholics Look To New Pope For Hope, Renewal

Catholics in Philadelphia react on Wednesday to selection of the new pope.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, we turn to reaction from Catholics in the United States. NPR's Jeff Brady spoke with Church members in Philadelphia about the election of Pope Francis.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Just a short time after the announcement in Rome, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a statement calling Pope Francis, quote, "a man from the new heartland of the global church." At a press conference, Chaput said he welcomes a pope who speaks Spanish. Sill, Chaput said he was surprised by Francis' election.

ARCHBISHOP CHARLES CHAPUT: I don't think he was on anybody's top three list, probably. And I think that that's always a great blessing for us, to be surprised. We believe, those of us who are believers believe that the election was guided by the Holy Spirit, who surprised us with an unusual pick.

BRADY: In Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, Fiorella Pearlstein(ph) says she is originally from Peru.

FIORELLA PEARLSTEIN: This is something big for us. And it's very exciting.

BRADY: Pearlstein says she imagines all of South America will be celebrating. She says since moving here she hasn't attended services regularly because she doesn't understand the English services at her local church well. Pealstein says Pope Francis' selection will renew her faith.

PEARLSTEIN: Knowing now that he's Argentinian(ph), you know, is exciting. It just made me feel like, let's go to the church again.

BRADY: In the archdiocese of Philadelphia, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says there are more than 1.4 million Catholics. For many of them, this has been a difficult time. Last year, a church leader, Monsignor William Lynn, was convicted of endangering children as part of the child sexual abuse scandal. That case is still on the minds of many Catholics here.

PATRICIA KOZLOWSKI: My name is Patricia Kozlowski(ph). We're in the center of Jenkintown and I am a crossing guard here, crossing the children.

BRADY: Kozlowski says the recent problems have turned her away from the church but not her faith. She was hoping a younger pope would be selected, one that could restore confidence in the institution.

KOZLOWSKI: Well, 76 isn't too bad, but I was hoping for somebody much younger.

BRADY: Why is that?

KOZLOWSKI: Because I feel that they have popes that are just too old that can't really do the job, and just goes back to the same old thing. And there's been so much corruption in the church that people have lost faith in the church, not that they've lost faith in god. I think we just need some new blood in there to straighten everything out and get the house in order.

BRADY: Nearby, a gift shop is across the street from a Catholic school that was closed as the local archdiocese faced financial pressures. Kate Dirkin(ph) is an employee in the shop. She hopes the new pope can lift Catholics out of what has been a difficult period.

KATE DIRKIN: Especially the Philadelphia area, with all the school districts closing, including the one that we sadly saw closing across the street. So, just somebody that could really pull us all together again and kind of get everything back on track and in a good positive light, hopefully.

BRADY: The Catholic Church has scheduled its big World Families Conference in Philadelphia in 2015. Benedict was scheduled to attend. Now, the faithful here hope Francis will choose to come to the city of brotherly love for his first U.S. visit as Pope.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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