By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The first South American pope in history, Pope Francis, was elected by a conclave of cardinals in Vatican City yesterday. Previously known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76-year-old Pope Francis, of Argentina, will be the first non-European to become pope in more than 1,000 years.
Angela Henao de Gomez, a member of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Tarboro and a native of Colombia, expressed her satisfaction with the new pope.
“His reaction, asking people for their blessing, he was very humble about,” she said. “He was asking people to bless him, instead of him blessing them.”
Bergoglio chose the name “Francis,” associating himself with the humble 13th century Italian saint by that name who lived a life of poverty.
“The fact that he’s a Latin American pope is something that I know everybody’s going to be very happy about,” said Frank Chaves, a family friend of Henao de Gomez. With the majority of the cardinals being European, Chaves said there was only a “slim chance” of a South American becoming pope. Forty percent of the world’s Catholic population is Latin American.
“We are excited we have a new pope. It’s kind of a special day today,” said Bob Nicolosi, a local Catholic. “We’re back on track.”
Nicolosi said he’s surprised the conclave of cardinals made the decision so quickly (on the fifth ballot) and he’s happy the new pope is American (from the Americas).
“For over 400 years the popes were Italian,” Nicolosi said. “His (Pope Francis’) parents were Italian, but he spent his life in Argentina.”
Rev. Frank M. Raffo, priest at St. Catherine of Siena, said he thinks Pope Benedict XVI made “the right decision” to resign effective Feb. 28 and bring in “fresh blood” to the highest leadership role in the Catholic Church. Benedict, 85, was the first pope to resign in 600 years. Bergoglio reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict.
“I’m hoping that everything will be really a good transition between the two of them,” Raffo said. He had his sights on two cardinals from the United States as picks for the new pope.
“I was hoping an American was going to get it. We’ve never had an American,” Raffo said. But in the church, just as in government, “you never can please everybody,” he said.
The Catholic Church’s Lenten season leading up to Easter began with German-born Pope Benedict XVI as its leader and will end under the leadership of Argentinian Pope Francis.
“We have been saying in the mass only the bishop’s name when we prayed for the leaders of the church, in the past two weeks,” Raffo said. “As far as Easter season goes, we’re going to be mentioning this guy’s (Pope Francis’) name after tomorrow.”
Pope Francis is known as a reformer in the area of social justice, while taking a conservative stance on other issues.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)