The selection of Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as the new pope Wednesday both surprised and pleased Catholics from Lawrence — and across the globe.
Bergoglio became the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than 1,000 years. He chose the name Francis, associating himself with a humble 13th-century Italian preacher, Francis of Assisi, who lived a life of poverty.
The Rev. John Schmeidler, priest at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lawrence, said he was happy to see that, as with the choice of Pope John Paul II of Poland as the first non-Italian in more than four centuries, Catholic cardinals had once again opened up to something new.
"It's good to see they're moving outside the European realm and into the South American realm," Schmeidler said, adding that he wasn't shocked by the selection, since Bergoglio was the runner-up in the last conclave. "It's a step forward to looking at a broader scope of the world."
Schmeidler said he "watched and celebrated" Bergoglio's address to the faithful on television with students at St. John Catholic School.
"One of the things that impressed me, that I enjoyed, is he had everybody pray together," Schmeidler said. "It shows a pope who can relate to the people, someone who can walk with us on this journey."
The Rev. Steve Beseau, director of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at Kansas University, said that while he was surprised by the pick, the more he learned about the new pope the more hopeful he became that Bergoglio was the right choice.
"People talk about his humility, his love for the poor and his faithfulness to the church," Beseau cited as three reasons he believes Bergoglio to be the man for the job. Bergoglio named himself after Francis of Assisi because of the saint's dedication to the poor.
Beseau invoked another reason that using the name of St. Francis of Assisi is a good sign: God supposedly once told the saint to "rebuild my church" after it had fallen into ruins. Beseau said he hopes that means the new pope can similarly "clean up all the scandals the church is having."
St. Francis Xavier is another important namesake. One of the 16th century founders of the Jesuit order, Francis Xavier was a legendary missionary who spread the faith as far as India and Japan — giving the new pope’s name selection possibly further symbolic resonance in an age when the church is struggling to maintain its numbers.
Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially as pope on Tuesday, according to Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Lombardi, also a Jesuit, said he was particularly stunned by the election given that Jesuits typically shun positions of authority in the church, instead offering their work in service to those in power.
But Lombardi said that in accepting the election, Francis must have felt it “a strong call to service,” an antidote to all those who speculated that the papacy was about a search for power.
In an interesting twist, the Jesuits were expelled from all of the Americas in the mid-18th century. Now, a Latin American Jesuit has been elected head of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church.
Across the planet, Latin Americans burst into tears and jubilation at news that the region, which counts 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, finally had a pope to call its own.
“It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,” said Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar at the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico.
Beseau, of the St. Lawrence center at KU, was also pleased the cardinals had looked to South America for the first time ever in choosing their leader, given the large number of Latin American Catholics. "This is a great boost for them, a wonderful celebration for people from that part of the world," he said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report