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At St. Anthony Shrine, New Pope Brings Renewed Calls For Change

BOSTON — Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who had been considered a contender for the papacy, is praising the election of Pope Francis, calling it a blessing to the church.

Word that O’Malley and his fellow cardinals had come to a decision spread quickly among Boston-area Catholics Wednesday. And the election of a new pope seems to be one of those life experiences that you never forget where you were when you heard the news.

“I was in my dentist’s office. I was in my dentist’s chair right here around the corner,” said Anne Connolly Tolkoff. The retired teacher from Brookline rushed to St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street to say a prayer for the new pope.

“I was delighted it’s a South American,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful to have someone who is not European. I hope it’s a different look. So, we’ll see, we’ll see. I don’t know where he is on many issues.”

And neither does Richard Flaherty. The Franciscan priest has been at St. Anthony Shrine for 40 years. He says he doesn’t know much about the new pope, but when he heard the news he broke into a big grin.

“I’m excited about it and the great part of it is the fact that he speaks Spanish,” Father Richard said. “That’s good and we need, please God, we need a pope like this and can take us maybe in a whole new direction. So I think it’s an exciting time in the church.”

As luck — or perhaps divine providence — would have it, Wednesday is the one day of the week when the shrine holds a Spanish-speaking Mass.

“He was from Latin America and maybe he’s going to direct the church in the right direction,” said Angelina Flavin, from Colombia. “And now we need to pray a lot for him because we need a lot of prayers”

Pope Francis will need all the prayers he can get. With ongoing sex abuse scandals, Vatican leaks and church finances under scrutiny, the Catholic Church is still in crisis.

The new pope is going to have his work cut out for him, says Monique Morales from Guatemala.

“I know it’s hard work for him, but I think our prayer helps him,” Morales said.

From this small sampling of faithful at St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston comes a common sentiment: a call for change. Tolkoff, who raced from a dentist’s chair to this church to pray for the new pope, says perhaps someday in the not too distant future we’ll see Catholic women priests, cardinals and who knows.

“We live for the day when it’ll be ‘viva Mama,’ ” she said.

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