Woodbury Heights Priest Knows Pope Francis, Calls Him Man of the People
The Rev. Felipe Doldan of the Infant Jesus Parish, a native Argentine, met Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio often in San Rafael. He knows the new pontiff as 'a very simple man.'
The Rev. Felipe Doldan of the Infant Jesus Parish is probably one of a handful of people in South Jersey to have had personal contact with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the newly appointed Pope Francis.
Doldan, a native Argentine who spends six months of every year in Buenos Aires, used to meet Bergoglio at least once annually, when the newly appointed pontiff would visit San Rafael on the feast day of that city's patron saint.
As a cardinal, Bergoglio was "a very simple man," Doldan said, who often traveled by bus or taxi.
"Very humble, I’d say, and always trying to be close to the people; maybe not too effusive like John Paul II," Doldan said.
"[Bergoglio] can become very friendly with the crowd," he said. "He tried to be very close to the priests, always addressing them, asking them to pray for him, and he used to write for the celebrations, so he keeps in touch very close to the people."
Doldan believes the new pope will be called upon to do some spiritual heavy lifting, not only in terms of strengthening the base of the Catholic faithful—some 40 percent of which in America are of Spanish-speaking background—but in uniting the cultures of Europe and the Americas in a common faith.
Bergoglio is both Italian and Argentine by descent, he pointed out.
"I think Rome was looking at that, too, the need to pay more attention to other parts of the world," Doldan said. "I think it’s a reason of this election in my opinion."
"Europe is a very difficult region now for the religious life," he said. "Pope Benedict realized that and was at the time reminding Europe about their Christian background, but I think that the Church wants him to pay attention to these foreign countries in America, especially South America. I think that’s one of the concerns."
Doldan also believes that in addition to Bergoglio's Jesuit background—which will necessarily provide "more of the traditional point of view" on issues like abortion and family values—his experience in an Argentine political culture that has had to reconcile with its violent military past might prove useful in dealing with the church's issues on child sexual abuse.
"I think he will go to repentance to acknowledge that many of us were wrong," Doldan said, "but also to try to support the rest of the church, who are working every day and taking care of the people. He should support them too, because otherwise everybody gets discouraged."
For Catholics in South Jersey who struggle with those issues—the Infant Jesus Parish includes those communities that worship at St. Margaret in Woodbury Heights and St. John Vianney in Deptford—Doldan said the faithful ought to look to their local leadership for strength.
"Look a little more to your local church and see the pastors and priests you have," he said. "We were lucky here to have had a good priest."