A church on Chicago’s Near West Side finds itself in perfect harmony with Pope Francis, the new leader of the world’s Roman Catholics.
St. Francis of Assisi Church is named after the same saint as the new pope, and its parish is almost entirely Latino and Spanish-speaking, a delightful match with the first Latin American pope.
“Being pope, being from Latino America and choosing St. Francis -- that helps our people connect a lot,” said the church’s pastor, Franco Liporace. “People are very happy.”
Liporace’s church has been predominantly Mexican for many decades, he said, with growing numbers from Central and South America more recently.
Although Liporace didn’t know why the founders of his church chose its name about a century and a half ago, he said the selection of that saint speaks to his church’s mission of restoration and humility.
“St. Francis at his time, eight centuries ago, he saw clearly that the church needed to go back to its founder, back to Jesus Christ,” Liporace said.
Saint Francis of Assisi grew up exceptionally wealthy, Liporace said, but during his life he realized that living a humble, modest life and giving his possessions to the poor meant being close to God. Saint Francis founded the Franciscan order.
Liporace said his parish would support the pope whether African, Chinese or Latin American, but having a Latino pope named after St. Francis is special.
“Certainly this is a very vibrant community, it's a great spirit of family here,” Liporace said. “But at the same time, they feel very connected as Latinos as well as Catholics.”
Someday, he said, he hopes the new pope will visit Chicago, as John Paul II did. It would be significant for his parishioners to meet a pope with whom they already feel such a deep connection, he said.
“The language is very important. You can see the same tone or inflection that touches you,” Liporace said. ”It’s something historic. We are certainly happy. He will, of course, have all of our support and prayers.”