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The office at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church was crowded Wednesday afternoon with people watching the news, waiting to see who the new pope would be.
“Holy cow,” one parishioner exclaimed upon the announcement that the papal conclave had selected Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires. “I’m ecstatic. I’ve got goose bumps all over me.”
Now known as Pope Francis I, he is the first pope born outside of Europe since the Syrian-born Gregory III was elected in 731. Father Morgan White, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, pointed out that Argentina is the “most European” nation in South America, with sizable populations from across the continent, including Italy, Spain, Germany, Wales and Ireland.
“It’s certainly novel, but it’s very timely,” White said. “Latino Catholics make up 42 percent of the Catholic Church. That’s a huge section of the church to consider.”
That’s not just true in Central and South America, either. White said Latinos make up a sizable percentage of Catholics in the United States, as well.
“I’m so excited about the name he’s chosen,” another parishioner said in the office. “It’s so real. It’s so simple, but eloquent.”
The choice of Francis for the pope’s name is significant, White said, and indicates a “return to very clear Gospel values, a back-to-the-basics approach.” The name references the medieval Saint Francis of Assisi. According to tradition, Francis had a dream where Christ told him to rebuild “My Church.” He repaired the Church of St. Damian, which was a reflection of a rebuilding of the Catholic Church to come, White said.
“Like Saint Francis of Assisi, I think this pope has a real love for the church, for creation and especially the dignity of the human person,” he said. “His was at the heart of Saint Francis’ mission, and that will be the mission of this pope – to protect the image of God in each human person.”
The election did not take long The papal conclave began Tuesday. The first vote took place that evening, with two more Wednesday morning without a decision. Early Wednesday afternoon Texas time, white smoke appeared from the Vatican, signifying a new pope had been elected.
According to The Atlantic Wire, the average has been 34.5 days since 1455, but the median length has been 13 days. White said the last two conclaves were relatively short. With texting, Twitter, Facebook and cell phones, communication is much more prevalent than in the past and meant the cardinals had time to discuss their options after Benedict announced his retirement.
“Those few weeks gave them time to discuss what the needs of the church were,” he said.
Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. The Associated Press reported that he came close to becoming pope in 2005 when Benedict XVI was elected.
“I would like to thank you for your embrace,” he was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “My brother cardinals have chosen one who is from far away, but here I am.”
The new pope was educated as a chemist and taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001. He was a member of the Jesuit order, who White said are often teachers and academics.
There was a lot of speculation that Benedict’s replacement would be a relatively young man. Francis is 76.
“You want somebody who’s full of energy and razzmatazz,” White said. “But at the same time, you need somebody who’s settled, who has wisdom and experience.”