BRISBANE’S Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary rector Monsignor Tony Randazzo and a recent visitor Bishop Lucio Andrice Muandula of Xai-Xai, Mozambique, both knew Pope Francis when he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Both men’s impressions of a humble and unassuming pastoral priest tallied with media reports since the Argentinian cardinal’s election as pope on March 13.
With this has come an optimism shared by other religious and Church organisation leaders.
Brisbane Centacare’s pastoral ministries director Fr John Chalmers said the appointment of a pope from the southern hemisphere was of great significance for Australia and that his choice of the name “Francis” recalled the message St Francis of Assisi received to rebuild the Church.
Catholic Religious Australia, Queensland executive officer Mercy Sister Mary Lowcock said religious she had spoken with were all positive about the new pope with some saying the feeling was similar to the election of Pope John XXIII and of “a sense the Church was going somewhere”.
Queensland St Vincent de Paul Society president Brian Moore said, from the society’s point of view, “it’s great to see a Jesuit pope elected, given the Jesuits are so big on social justice”.
Msgr Randazzo said he had “the pleasure” of meeting the pope-to-be in Rome on several occasions.
The monsignor, as assistant director of Domus Internationalis Paulus VI (accommodation for members of the Curia), shared several meals with Cardinal Bergoglio.
“My impression was of a very humble man, almost shy, who didn’t push himself,” he said.
“I always got the impression when speaking to him of talking to a genuine person.
“It was about life, the goings-on in the world Church, interesting issues in life but never about himself … that was fascinating; it was a great model actually.”
Msgr Randazzo was “filled with emotion” when he saw Pope Francis come out onto the balcony after his election.
“I could relate to him as a house guest with whom I had many interesting conversations,” he said.
Bishop Muandula’s first meeting with the pope-to-be was at a synod of bishops in Rome.
They had a common interest having a priest exchange arrangement between the Argentinian cardinal’s archdiocese of Buenos Aires and the bishop’s diocese of Xai-Xai.
Several years later, the bishop and cardinal also met in Buenos Aires for several hours of further discussion.
“I found him a very humble person,” he said.
“He was very committed to poor people and to evangelisation, not only thinking theologically about faith but being practical and working with people in the streets.
“I believe he will be a very good person for the problems we are facing today in the Church.”
Fr Chalmers said the election of a pope from the southern hemisphere was one of great significance for Australia “the great south land of the Holy Spirit”.
“The choice also reflects a change which has been happening in the Church for the past 50 or so years,” he said.
“As the Catholic population has grown in the south in places such as South America and Africa so the pope has now come from the southern hemisphere.”
Sr Lowcock said media reports on Pope Francis’ election indicated “quite a shift in outlook and the bringing of much-needed freshness to the Church”.
“He also seems to be encouraging the Church to start looking outwards again instead of focusing so much on internal issues and structures,” she said.
“At the same time he is emphasising the importance of prayer and warning against the Church becoming a type of NGO (non-government organisation).”
Mr Moore said the St Vincent de Paul Society was pleased the new pope would be able to relate to the poor from his experiences in his own Archdiocese of Buenos Aires.