Wisconsin News

New pope takes over church facing challenges

LA CROSSE, Wis. - It's still the largest Christian church in the world with an estimated 1.2 billion followers, but the Catholic Church is facing a declining number of worshippers.

Some hope the election of a new pope can help bring people back to the church.

"What he can do is certainly present the message of Catholicism in a way that is going to be engaging for all those who are interested in hearing it. That may make a big deal in terms of who is going to come back to church on Sunday," said Bishop William Callahan, of the La Crosse Diocese.

Callahan believes the election of a South American as pontiff sends a message.


"I think it says to the world that we're not quite as stodgey as everybody might think. It means that we certainly have an eye that this is a world-wide organization, he said.

One area where the church appears to be growing is with its Hispanic followers.

 In La Crosse, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was built specifically to cater to that segment of the Catholic church.

"The Hispanics have a great love for Our Lady of Guadalupe and many Hispanics come here on pilgrimmage," said Leif Arvidson, executive director of the shrine.

Arvidson says picking a South American pope is historic and pragmatic.

"This is very unique. This is the first pope to be chosen from anywhere in all of the Americas. So it's very significant," said Arvidson.

Pope Francis takes over a church also still dealing with the fallout of the world-wide priest sex abuse scandal. Many have faith that he can help lead the church to more stability.

"(I'm) certainly happy. Just seeing him was a good thing. It made me feel good again about the fact that there's peace in the church," said Callahan.

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