Local Catholic leaders used words such as “exciting” and “hopeful” to described Wednesday’s selection of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope to lead the church’s 1.2 billion followers worldwide.
Bergoglio’s elevation to pope came more than an hour after white smoke poured from the chimney at the Vatican, signaling that a new pontiff had been selected by the gathered cardinals.
The traditional signal — white smoke when a pope is chosen as opposed to black smoke if not — was noted at 11:06 a.m. PST. It was accompanied by the ringing of bells, and was broadcast live around the world by numerous television networks.
“I’m very inspired by name he took,” said the Rev. Mario Prietto of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in downtown Santa Barbara. “Francis was a great saint who served the poor.”
The choice “signals that reaching out to the poor is very important to the papacy,” Gosselin said.
Prietto and Gosselin were both attending a gathering of local Catholic clergy Wednesday when they learned of Bergoglio’s selection.
“I was just as surprised as anybody else,” said Prietto, noting that the new pontiff was not among those being mentioned as likely to become pope.
Bergoglio, 76, brings some firsts to the papacy: He is the first Jesuit to become pope, and the first pontiff to come from the Americas.
“That’s really something,” said Prietto. “He comes from Latin America where the faith is so strong.”
That heritage has special resonance for Prietto, whose father is from Peru and mother is from Mexico.
Prietto noted that Bergoglio “shunned the trappings of being a cardinal,” moving out of the ornate palace in Buenos Aires in favor of an apartment. He also cooked for himself and took public transportation, he said.
The choice of Bergoglio “signals that reaching out to the poor is very important to the papacy,” Gosselin said.
In watching Begoglio’s first appearance as pope, Prietto said he was touched that “before he gave the traditional blessing, he asked people to pray and bless him.”
“It was a beautiful gesture,” he said.
Bergoglio is the 266th pope, and had served as a cardinal since 2001.
One of five children, he was born in Buenos Aires; his father was a railroad worker and his mother was a homemaker.
He entered the priesthood in 1969, after receiving a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires and attending theology school.