By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
Less than a week after he was installed, north Jefferson County is already seeing effects of having a new pope.
Father Michael Deering said one man, a Catholic who had been away from church for years, called him last week and said he wanted to come back to the church. “He said ‘I want to come back to my home,’” Deering said.
Then a woman called who is not a Catholic, but her husband is.
“She came to mass by herself,” Deering said. “We’re seeing people who are away from God want to come back to God. I’m just moved by the immediate effect.”
Deering is the pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Gardendale and St. Henry’s Catholic Church in Warrior. He said the man and woman both told him they were inspired by the actions and words of Pope Francis, who was inaugurated March 19.
Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, was elected by the papal conclave on March 13.
However, Deering said it was not really the conclave of cardinals that made the choice.
“The cardinals didn’t choose the pope. The Holy Spirit picked the next pope,” Deering said. “He’s the guy because he’s the one hand-picked by God.”
Pope Francis, the 266th pope, is being characterized as one to break formal traditions upheld by those who previously held the position. During his inauguration ceremony, he rode in an open-air SUV throughout St. Peter’s Square rather than the vehicle with bulletproof glass used by former popes (after an assassination attempt in 1981 on Pope John Paul II).
He also stepped from the vehicle in order to bless a man who was disabled.
Deering said these acts help endear the new pope to the more than one billion Catholics worldwide.
“We can see it here, in one week,” he said. “His gentleness, humility and kindness will draw people.”
Deering said he thinks Pope Francis will help the Catholic church in its goal to retain worshippers.
“One of our goals is to make sure people stay faithful,” he said. “It’s so easy to get casual.”
One aspect of the new pope that draws people, according to Deering, is his mirroring of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
The pope chose the name Francis in part due to his (Bergoglio’s) concern for the poor, which was also a concern of St. Francis of Assisi’s.
Deering said St. Francis, who chose a life of poverty despite having wealthy parents, is beloved for his humility and simplicity.
“The same message our Lord gave to Francis 800 years ago, he is giving the same message today,” Deering said. “(Pope Francis) is going to incorporate into his papacy the spirituality and practices of Pope Francis of Assisi.”