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Local Catholics give thanks for Pope Francis

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Updated: April 16, 2013 4:09PM



JOLIET — Going to Mass on a Thursday afternoon would normally be for only the most devout Catholics.

But this Thursday was special. Less than 24 hours after Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was selected to head the church, the Cathedral of St. Raymond called a Mass of thanksgiving to celebrate the news and to pray for Pope Francis.

Mark Janus of Joliet was one of about 500 people streaming into the Joliet Diocese’s mother church to celebrate the news.

“It’s a great event,” he said. “I want to pray for the pope and pray that ... with a lot of the things that have been happening in the church that he can handle those events.”

The service was about giving thanks for the pope’s election and celebrating having a new leader for the 21st Century, said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Siegel. Siegel filled in for Bishop R. Daniel Conlon who performed a similar Mass in Downers Grove in the morning.

Pope Francis is the first non-European, the first from the Americas, the first Jesuit and the first to take the name Francis.

He also is a pastor and a teacher and, Siegel said, he’s hopeful Pope Francis will bring those gifts to the church as its new shepherd.

Siegel said it is unclear if the pope chose the name Francis after St. Francis Assisi or St. Francis Xavier. But both are wonderful patron saints who will help the pope on his mission to renew and rebuild the church “after a time of scandal and pain,” Siegel said.

Pope Francis also needs to speak and teach the faith in a new way, “to touch the lives of all people, especially those who once followed the Lord but have fallen away,” he said during his sermon.

Frank Ongkiko of Joliet watched the Mass with his son, Micah, a kindergartner at St. Ray’s school. Another son, Mario, an eighth grader at St. Ray’s, watched at the front of the church with dozens of fellow junior high students.

“He was actually outside for recess, but he gladly came,” Frank said of Micah. “It is an important junction for our church and our religion, the naming of a new pope. With all of the adverse events in the world, we are praying for the pope and all Christians. With him being from South America, perhaps he’ll bring more people closer together.”

A light snow was falling as attendees walked to their cars after the music-and-incense filled Mass. For Ofrecila Mendoza of Orland Park, the service was doubly special. She was there for Pope Francis.

“I pray for the pope to be a success and a good leader,” she said.

But she also traveled to St. Raymond’s for the first time to pray for her daughter, who is scheduled for a kidney transplant on March 28.

“This is our first time to come over here,” Mendoza said. “They say if you are in a church for the first time, you can make a wish.”



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