Maui pastors celebrating background of new pope

Catholic leaders on Maui applauded Wednesday the ascension of Pope Francis, the first papal selection from Latin America and the first Jesuit.

Pastors of the some of the largest congregations on the island lauded the new pope’s Argentinean background (he’s also part Italian), his balance between intellect and pastoral concern and the selection of his name after St. Francis of Assisi, who preached among the poor.

“The diversity of the church is good,” said the Rev. Monsignor Terry Watanabe of St. Theresa Church in Kihei. “It helps us to continue to grow and to see things from a different perspective and point of view.”

He noted that there is much more diversity among the cardinals. There was even talk of an African and a Filipino cardinal reportedly in the running for the leadership of the Catholic faith.

“We can learn from one another and from each other’s cultures,” Watanabe said. “Everyone brings their gifts . . . to promote the gospel.”

St. Theresa, with 600 to 700 registered families in its congregation, also ministers to the island’s Hispanic population. Father Victor Velez conducts Mass in Spanish to a total of more than 500 people at St. Theresa, Christ the King in Kahului and Sacred Hearts and Maria Lanakila churches on the west side on weekends.

“From the ones (Hispanic congregants) I have already talked to, they are very excited,” Watanabe said.

He noted that the Catholic Church worldwide has grown, because of the Hispanic community. Pope Francis’ ability to speak Spanish “is going to be a tremendous blessing,” he said.

“He’s coming from a different worldview,” said Watanabe.

The Rev. Roland Bunda, pastor of St. Anthony Church in Wailuku, pointed out that Pope Francis does not view the world from the halls of the Vatican.

“He’s from Argentina,” Bunda said. “He’s really an evangelizer. He is with the poor, and he catches the bus to work.”

His working with the poor is part of his being Jesuit, a society whose members observe a vow of poverty and have set up colleges and universities across the country.

Bunda described Pope Francis as a “fine balance” between being an “intellectual” and having “a pastoral concern.” He also believes the new pope can “bridge the wounds of the past.”

“I think this is really a good move,” said Bunda.

St. Joseph Church’s pastor, the Rev. Geronimo Castro, concurred with Bunda.

“We are happy about it (Pope Francis’ selection),” said the pastor of the Makawao church. “It will give more inspiration for the community. . . . There is lots of hope.”

As a layman, Council Member Mike Victorino, a member of St. Anthony, said he was excited about the new pope.

“I hope he will lead us through these challenging times,” Victorino said, adding that he eyed his computer during breaks in meetings and had the television on in his office to watch for the white smoke signifying the selection of a new pope.

“I support him and am very excited and pray that he does well in keeping the message alive,” he added.

Still, Victorino said that he was hoping for someone younger than the 76-year-old Pope Francis.

“A lot of us were hoping for someone younger in their 60s or late 60s,” he said, noting that Pope John Paul II was in his 60s when chosen. “It gives us some longevity and continuity in my mind.”

Younger or older, this is a time for celebration in the Catholic community.

“Like every . . . beginning, there is great hope,” said Watanabe.

* Lee Imada can be reached at