"A Jesuit pope by the name of Francis sends you a Franciscan bishop trained by the Jesuits."
Those were the words of Lexington's new bishop-elect, John Stowe, as he introduced himself at his initial press conference.
The words came as a breath of fresh air to progressive Catholics in the Lexington Diocese.
In his opening statement, there was not a word about abortion, contraception or gay marriage — the dreary, unvarying drumbeat of doctrinal rigidity that has (in the pope's words) turned the lives of Catholics into an endless "Lent without Easter."
Instead, bishop-elect Stowe follows the lead of his boss who emphasizes the "good news" of the Christian faith, rather than right-wing doom and gloom.
While not ignoring those other matters, Pope Francis (and, it seems, bishop-elect Stowe) would have Catholics engage the big issues such as the failure of corporate capitalism and its resulting wealth inequalities, wars and climate chaos.
Lexington's new appointee is not only a disciple of Pope Francis. He also has a rich personal history of ecumenical and inter-faith cooperation, as well as social activism and community organization.
In his previous posts in Ohio and Texas, the bishop-elect has been a consistent peace and social justice leader and a critic of reactionary politics — especially as they affect immigrants.
Stowe recognizes, for instance, the parallels between the experience of today's undocumented workers and that of his Italian grandmother whose compatriots were routinely called "WOPS," or immigrants without papers.
More pointedly, in 2006, when he addressed the Mayor's Congress on Immigration Reform in El Paso, Tx., he rejected the Minuteman and vigilante approach to border security.
He criticized the U.S. Congress saying, "We shudder to imagine what the inscription on the Statue of Liberty might read if it had been erected by the current U.S. Congress."
The bishop-elect is fluent in Spanish. His introductory conference featured a long paragraph perfectly delivered in that language.
I'm sure that gladdened the hearts of the growing Hispanic community in the Lexington diocese. Hispanics, Stowe says, (along with his Franciscan emphasis on service to the poor) have formed him as a priest and pastor.
In summarizing his priorities and agenda, he said he will focus on worship and the service that inevitably flows, he said, out of meaningful liturgy.
But like his papal mentor, he plans to do lots of listening before acting.
In all things, he would take Pope Francis as his inspiration and guide and would follow his example.
"I love Pope Francis," he said, and will do whatever he asks."