Catholics ponder future with new pope

By Bradley Brooks

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 3 2013 3:59 p.m. MST

Rev Russell Pollitt preaches during a Mass at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, Sunday March 3, 2013. Catholics around the world attended the first Sunday masses since Benedict XVI stepped down as pope. Many prayed for a energetic, new leader to reinvigorate what many said was an ailing institution (AP Photo) (AP Photo)

The Associated Press

SAO PAULO — Faithful attending Sunday Mass on five continents for the first time since Pope Benedict XVI's retirement had different ideas about who should next lead the Roman Catholic Church, with people suggesting everything from a Latin American pope to one more like the conservative, Polish-born John Paul II. What most agreed on, however, was the church is in dire need of a comeback.

Clergy sex abuse scandals and falling numbers of faithful have taken their toll on the church, and many parishioners said the next pope should be open about the problems rather than ignore them.

Worshippers in the developing world prayed for a pope from a poorer, non-European nation, while churchgoers in Europe said what was more important was picking a powerful figure who could stop the steep losses in Catholic numbers.

Some South African Catholics called for what they said was a more pragmatic approach to contraception given the AIDS epidemic devastating that continent. They also suggested ending the celibacy requirement for priests, insisting on what's viewed as the traditional importance of a man having a family.

Catholics likely will find out this week whether such hopes become reality, as cardinals worldwide arrive in Rome for a conclave that could elect a new pontiff. Many expect the church to pick another European to replace the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned on Thursday.

In Brazil, the Vatican has seen its numbers chipped away by neo-Pentecostal churches offering the faithful rollicking music-filled services and hands-on practical advice. It's an approach matched by the massive Mother of God sanctuary led by Brazil's Grammy-nominated "pop-star priest" Marcelo Rossi.

More traditional Catholics snub Rossi's "charismatic" masses, but many point to his style of aggressive evangelization as the way forward in the world's biggest Catholic nation, which has seen Catholics drop from 74 percent of the population in 2000 to 65 percent a decade later.

"I'm certain the most important step in surpassing the challenges facing the church is having a new pope who renews the believers," said Solange Lima, a 32-year-old new mother who spoke over the roar of a Christian rock band at Mother of God. "A Brazilian pope could do this. Look at the faithful here, this place is a laboratory for what needs to be done."

The archbishop of Sao Paulo, Odilo Scherer, is considered by many to be Latin America's leading candidate to become pope.

That message of change was echoed by chimney sweep Zbyszek Bieniek, who was among 200 worshippers at a Mass in Warsaw's 13th century St. John's Cathedral. For him, the sex abuse scandal that has enveloped the church will be the next pope's most pressing challenge.

"The key thing will be to clear the situation and calm the emotions surrounding the church in regard to the comportment of some of the priests, the cases of pedophilia and sexual abuse," Bieniek said. "The new pope should tell the truth about it and make sure that such things don't happen again and are no longer swept under the rug."

Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, is still much admired in his native Poland and elsewhere, and many faithful around the globe said the next pope should strive to be as beloved as him.

"I have been praying for a new pope to be just like Pope John Paul II, who was close to the people and was very humble," said Charlene Bautista, while attending Mass in the working-class Baclaran district in Manila, Philippines.

The Southeast Asian country, for the first time, has a cardinal being mentioned as a papal candidate, Father Antonio Luis Tagle. That encouraged the Rev. Joel Sulse as he celebrated Sunday Mass at the Santuario de San Antonio parish in an upscale residential enclave in Manila's Makati business district.

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