Area Catholics were surprised by the election of the first pope from the Americas but hoped he would bring a new spirit to heal divisions in the church and excite the faithful.
The cardinals on Wednesday elected 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as pope.
Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany said it is significant that Bergoglio is the first non-European pontiff in centuries and took the name Francis.
“Francis of Assisi is the most popular saint in Roman Catholicism and he’s known for his simplicity, his humility and his commitment to the poor and social justice. I’m hoping that these qualities in the saint that he chose for his name as pope will be characteristic of his own exercise of the papacy,” Hubbard said.
Bergoglio seems to fit those qualities with an excellent and rich background as a seminary rector, spiritual director and archbishop, according to Hubbard, but is unassuming enough to use public transportation.
The No. 1 priority for Pope Francis will be evangelization — communicating his message using the most up-to-date technologies to reach all generations of Catholics and people throughout the world, Hubbard said.
He would also like to see a review of the Curia — the governance for the Vatican — and more opportunities for local bishops to participate in the oversight of the church.
While Bergoglio is 76, Hubbard said that is around the same age as when Pope John XXIII assumed the papacy and called the Second Vatican Council, which allowed Mass to be celebrated in native languages and made other reforms. “Even in a short papal tenure, a lot can be accomplished,” he said.
The Rev. Jerome Gringas, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Glenville, said the anticipation was exciting.
“I’m just very happy right now that we’ve got a leader. I’m sure that the Holy Spirit will guide us,” he said.
He also liked the choice of name.
“Taking that title Pope Francis gives a little taste of this man’s personality. He’s very simple, extremely bright. That’s a beautiful combination,” he said. Bergoglio has been a man of the people, defending his flock and serving as their advocate, according to Gringas.
Healing the internal divisions in the Vatican and expanding the church are among Bergoglio’s tasks, Gringas said. “I’m hoping that he’ll be open to new things and new possibilities.”
Jeffrey Marlett, professor of religious studies at The College of Saint Rose, said the choice of Bergoglio reflects the base of the church.
“Almost half the world’s Catholics are from Central and South America. Obviously, the cardinal electors realized where the church was growing and where it’s shrinking,” he said.
At the same time, Bergoglio will continue the conservative line of theology followed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. There is likely not to be any change on social issues, Gringas said.
“By electing Francis, the cardinal electors managed to blend the old with the new,” he said.
Bergoglio was a familiar face in the conclave, having received the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election. Francis is only two years younger than Ratzinger was when he became pope, so Marlett said it will be interesting to see whether the new pope decides to step down like Benedict did when he feels he is too old to the job.
“He seemed very robust to me. He looked a little shell-shocked when he stepped out there,” Marlett said of Francis.
Deacon Thomas Sharrow of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish said he thought the cardinals would have picked somebody younger, but hoped that the pope would heal the divisions in the church.
Pope Francis wants to evangelize Rome and the world, according to Sharrow.
“I was very amazed when he bowed and he asked for the crowd to bless him before he blessed them. It was a very powerful sign,” he said.