New Pope Francis Elected: Catholics in Bethlehem React
White smoke appeared on Wednesday, signaling that the conclave had chosen Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to be the new head of the Catholic Church. Locals across the community responded.
Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, is the next pope. He has chosen the name Pope Francis.
Bergoglio is the first Jesuit—and the first from Latin America—to be named pope.
“It was a total surprise. He wasn’t thought to be a frontrunner,” said the Rev. Anthony Mongiello of St. Anne’s Church on Washington Avenue in Bethlehem.
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“I didn’t know much about him, but based on different aspects of his life, it sounds very encouraging,” Mongiello said. “He is a very good manager but at the same time, a simple man.”
He has spent nearly his entire career in Argentina, and according to published reports he has lived modestly, taking the bus to work, cooking his own meals and opting to live in an apartment.
ABC News Online reported that he is considered a champion of social justice in his country. He also is a conservative, strongly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception, ABC News reported.
Though Bergoglio is, like him, a Jesuit—generally thought to be a liberal order of priests -- Mongiello said we should not be looking for Pope Francis to bring sweeping change, such as allowing women to join the priesthood.
Bergoglio would likely not have been elected to the papacy if he were not a “conservative Jesuit,” Mongiello said.
"Rarely has a new pope been greeted with so much goodwill coupled with so much hope for change," said the Rev. Lloyd Steffens, a professor of religion studies and the chaplain for Lehigh University.
"The new pope is known for his deep concern for the poor, and he promises to be a spiritual leader who can direct the world's attention to issues of economic and social justice," Steffens said.
"But he also faces the problems of scandal and cover-up, a need for transparency in the church, and a continuing questioning of church authority from within over issues important to people's lives, such as contraception."
Bergoglio stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome at 3:22 p.m. Wednesday (8:22 p.m in Rome) to cheering crowds. Just a little over an hour earlier, white smoke had arisen from atop the Sistine Chapel, indicating that the Roman Catholic cardinals had elected a new pope.
Bergoglio succeeds Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned Feb. 28, the first pope to do so in 600 years. He cited advanced age.
“Probably the most disappointing aspect to [the selection of Bergoglio] is that he is an older man,” Mongiello said. “He may not be pope for very long. That could be a good thing, too.”
Mongiello said he hopes that Pope Francis can be an evangelizer who can help the church to grow and an inspirational leader who can bring younger people back to the faith.
Mongiello also saw the selection of the first South American pope as “a great value to the church,” as a large concentration of the world’s Catholics is from Latin America.
"Pope Francis is a humble man who now stands on the world stage to offer moral and spiritual leadership not only to Catholics but to the world itself," Steffens said.
"It will be interesting to see what messages he will offer and how his own 'outsider' status in the Vatican may point to some new directions for the church."
There are 270,000 Catholics across the Allentown Diocese -- 76,000 in Northampton County and 67,000 in Lehigh County.