Feb. 11, 29 days before the conclave began, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said that he would not be surprised if the cardinal chosen to be pope wasn’t well known by many people, as that individual’s “characteristics and talents will be discovered in and through his leadership.”

March 14, the day after Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Milwaukee’s archbishop reiterated, “Now it’s up to me to discover that person. It’s like meeting a new friend, now you can discover all sorts of things about this friend you have never known … This will be just a wonderful opportunity for all of us to get to know this personality in the church.”

The archbishop said he didn’t have a pre-conclave prediction as to who would be elected pope, but he admitted it would have been “wonderful” had U.S. Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan, Sean P. O’Malley, Francis E. George or Donald W. Wuerl been chosen.

“They are wonderful, wonderful individuals – individuals I know personally and I know their strengths would have brought much to the office,” he said. “From everything I read about Cardinal Angelo Scola, he certainly would have been a worthy choice. These men did not attain the status of ‘papabili’ without a lot of scrutiny by a lot people. But in the end, I was really confident that the cardinals would elect, in their mind, who the best person would be.”

 ‘Outsider’ with a ‘fresh attitude’

Being a non-curial cardinal, and being from Latin America, Pope Francis might be considered a Vatican outsider. If he is, Archbishop Listecki likes it.

“I don’t know how much of an outsider you can be if you’re a cardinal in the church, but the reason I like that is that the first responsibility of any cardinal, or any archbishop or bishop who is an ordinary (head of a diocese) is the responsibility he has to his church – the church he has been entrusted with. That should be the first focal point for him because the church has asked him to do that,” the archbishop said. “The energies that person has should be directed to that.”

He compared it to his situation in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

“My energies are focused on that family that has been entrusted to me, which is the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” Archbishop Listecki said. “Certainly I love the church universal, I support the pope; my obedience is to him, but Rome can handle itself without me, but hopefully, I am doing my job as archbishop of Milwaukee.”

Regarding the church’s administrative offices, the archbishop anticipates pope Francis will “bring a fresh attitude to the workings of the Curia.”

“Because he’s much more a local ordinary, he will definitely emphasize the relationship of the Curia, especially the workings of the church, to the locals dioceses or archdioceses, so there will be a great sense of connection,” he said.

Archbishop Listecki used the Cousins Center staff as an example.

“The pastoral center of the archdiocese works for the parishes, and when you have that mentality that you are at the service of the parishes, the relationship completely changes. Whereas to think that the parishes are at the service of the Cousins Center, well that’s not how it works,” he said. “As local ordinary, that is what he’s going to bring. His staff, which is going to be his curia, is going to be at the service of the local dioceses and archdioceses.”

‘Reshaping vision of church’

The archbishop said that having a pope who comes from an area so predominantly Catholic, yet diverse in its roots, will “definitely reshape the vision of the church.”

“We talk about Latin America as though one size fits all; this is a person who is going to bring a very distinct aspect of a country of Latin America with hands-on knowledge of all those other countries – Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Ecuador,” Archbishop Listecki said, “Because of that, there’s also going to be special attention paid to Africa and Asia, understanding the unique characteristics they bring to Catholicism and support for the role that they play.”

He noted that the vision of the church had been predominantly European, and had been “strongly influenced” by the First World, including the U.S., but which would now reflect the understanding that the majority of the world’s Catholics are coming from the Third World.

‘Pastor to the world’

Archbishop Listecki expects that travel will remain an important part of the papal itinerary under Pope Francis.

“He will continue to be pastor to the world. You want to see your pastor. You want to encounter your pastor. You want your pastor to be present. Take a look at the microcosm that is the parish: You want your pastor at meetings, social events; being the pastor for the universal church, there will be the expectation that will be present at significant things,” the archbishop said.

He noted that the pope not only travels as the leader of world Catholicism, but as head of the Vatican City State, “giving him standing that other religious leaders do not have.”
Jesuit influence

That Pope Francis is a Jesuit – the first elected to the papacy – has significance, according to Archbishop Listecki, because it is “the environment in which he was raised.”

“It’s significant in the sense that this is a person whose priesthood was formed in Jesuit tradition. That is going to influence his papacy — the ways he studies certain problems, the way he reacts to demands. They’re going to be colored by his spirituality,” he said.

The archbishop continued, “It’s like saying Karol Wojtyla is a Polish pope doesn’t really matter. We know it matters! He’s formed in that; he lives his whole life in that. That’s a part that he brings to the papacy. So yes, the fact that he’s a
Jesuit does matter.”

‘Lives like we do’

Archbishop Listecki said that since most leaders in the U.S. come from elite lives in which they often attend elite schools, have billions of dollars behind them in order to undertakle an election, and live “scripted” lives in order to attain those positions, Americans aren’t always familiar with another way of surfacing leaders.

“Most people are shocked when they find out that the person who is their leader lives like they do, and experiences the same things that they do,” he said. “The beauty of the church is the fact that here we have a person who was born of working class parents and now he has been elected, basically through the work of the Holy Spirit and the selection of the cardinals, to occupy what some people would term the last absolute sovereign on earth.”

The archbishop noted that Pope Francis and Blessed Pope John Paul II came “out of obscurity, people of the masses, who suddenly have been elevated and entrusted with the care and responsibility to look over 1.2 billion Catholic souls. It’s remarkable.”