The Roman Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope, who lived in a small apartment and used public transportation as a cardinal, sparked excitement among Tri-State area clergy and church members Thursday.
Members of the clergy in the Tri-State area talked about their support of the newly elected Pope Francis, including Father James Nirappel of Saint Mary Catholic Church, who said his election will bring diversity to the church.
“He understands their language and can communicate with them,” he said.
Nirappel praised the pope’s lifestyle as a cardinal, terming him a “really humble person who lived like a poor man as a servant of God.”
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, Pope Francis was chosen Wednesday to replace Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. Francis became the first South American pope and the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years.
The Rev. John Bateman, of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Waynesboro, Pa., described the election of the longtime archbishop of Buenos Aires as “exciting.”
“To have a Holy Father now that is from the Americas, that’s just a wonderful thing,” Bateman said.
Bateman, who said he expects Bergoglio’s papacy will place “a great emphasis on the poor,” said he was especially taken with the new pope for asking that the 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday “please pray for me.”
The Rev. R. Eric Hall of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Martinsburg, W.Va. said the first word that entered his mind upon hearing of the newly elected leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Roman Catholics was “validating.”
“To take an office like that with the importance it has, with the humility of someone who is not grasping after power, it’s encouraging,” he said. He mentioned that Pope Francis, when descending from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday, rode in the bus alongside the cardinals instead of in the papal car.
The Rev. Brian Shoda, of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Inwood, W.Va., said he admired the 76-year-old pope’s demonstrated humility, describing Bergoglio’s achievement in identifying “with ordinary people,” evident in his choice to live in an apartment and cook his own food in Buenos Aires and to travel by bus.
“He flew economy. I love that,” Shoda said of Bergoglio’s trip to the conclave. “He refuses to live above the people in his area.”
Local church members who were about to attend Mass at St. Mary’s in Hagerstown, reacted positively to the outcome of the five-ballot conclave of cardinal electors.
Elaine Missenis of Hedgesville, W.Va., talked about his request that people pray for him.
“That means he’ll be a vessel for the Holy Spirit,” Missenis, 63, said. “He was very accessible to the people as a cardinal, so he knows what’s happening at the bottom of the food chain.”
Charles Squibb, 82, of Hagerstown, said the new pope is a “humble man” who “mingles with poor people,” which he said is an important quality.
“Jesus said the poor will always be among us,” he said.
Marie Nowakowski, 74, of Hagerstown, said that electing a pope from South America shows how far the Catholic Church has come.
“The fact that the cardinals went outside of Europe shows they’re aware of the growth of the church in Latin America and Africa,” she said. “I hope he would raise awareness to Catholics everywhere of the needs of the poor, and based on his track record, I think he will.”
George Ryan of Hagerstown said he was praying that things go well for the new pope Thursday.
“I like his humility and devotion to the church,” Ryan, 77, said. “I hope he brings more stability, progress, and more relations with younger people to the church.”
The 266th pope in the church’s history takes control after a widespread child sex abuse scandal clouded Pope Benedict’s papacy.
Some local Catholics who said they are encouraged by the new pope did not ignore the fact that controversy has surrounded the church.
“Over the past years with scandals, there’s been discouragement in the church, and I hope that he moves the church forward, acknowledges that wrongs were done, and move toward the future,” said Pam Miller, 60, of Williamsport. “It’s exciting to have a pope from Argentina, and I think he will bring a positive continuation of our teachings.”
Betty Mastrounni, 78, of Hagerstown, said that she thinks the new pope will raise awareness to “our duty to help those in need.”
“My hope is that more Catholics return to the church, and Argentineans are very devout Catholics,” she said.