Leven said he felt that Pope John Paul II, the much beloved traveling pontiff, like several of his predecessors, tried to curtail the authoritarianism of the Vatican. The priest said when this proved difficult, John Paul II decided to emphasize evangelization.
“He took Jesus to the world,” Leven said.
Meanwhile, the octogenarians said they have high hopes for the new pontiff, particularly because he chose to honor St. Francis of Assisi as his papal namesake.
Leven said he also is pleased that the new pope seems bent on making changes.
“St. Francis of Assisi was know as a renovator of the church, so if he (Pope Francis) lives up to his namesake, we can look for a renewal,” Leven said. “He's anti-establishment and a bishop from out in the parishes and knows what we must do in order to spread the gospel.”
Oberst said she watched a portion of the televised inauguration Mass and came away with the sense that Pope Francis wants to reach out to everyday people.
“It's good to see him be kind and respectful of everyone,” she said.
“He's no intellectual like Benedict was, but we need all kinds. I think it's good to have variety.”
When asked what he would say to the new pope if he had an opportunity for a personal chat, Leven smiled.
“I've always said if I were pope, I'd replace the curia with new ideas, new vigor, a new outlook and a new way of serving people,” he said.
“That's what I would talk to the pope about — serving people.”
And the priest said the new pontiff's greatest challenge will hinge on his ability to bring out that renewed vitality that the church needs to move forward in the 21st century.
“To be relevant, we need to move forward in our evangelization and service of the people,” he said.
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AT A GLANCE
These are the popes Marvin Leven and Georganna Oberst have known over the course of their lives. In parentheses are the dates of their papacies according to Catholic Encyclopedia: