By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Pope Francis I was welcomed by three local Catholics, who described his election Wednesday as an exciting step toward change in the church and world.
“This is a sensational, spectacular, stunning choice to lead the church,” said the Rev. John Rosson, pastor of St. Mary’s Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church in Cooperstown.
Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina became the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe.
By choosing the papal name Francis, he associated himself with St. Francis of Assisi, a humble 13th-century Italian preacher who lived a life of poverty and who saw his calling as an opportunity to rebuild the church in a time of turmoil, the Associated Press reported. Pope Francis, 76, the son of middle-class Italian immigrants, is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries enjoyed by previous Buenos Aires cardinals.
Cardinals elected Bergoglio on the fifth balloting.
“They made a bold, courageous choice,’’ said the Rev. David Mickiewicz, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Oneonta. “His choice signals a real change about how the papacy is run.’’
Not only is the newly elected pope from a non-European country, Mickiewicz said, but he also is “aligned with the poor’’ and from South America, where countries have been under dictatorships. Mickiewicz said he expects the newly elected pope will challenge the internal structure of the church, make it more transparent and “clean the house’’ of issues that have become obstacles to proclaiming the Gospels.
The election of a pope from predominantly Catholic Latin America is significant because of that area’s economic and social transition, said Mario Arevalo, a member of St. Mary’s in Oneonta who originally is from Bolivia. A pope from Argentina will have a significant role as a leader as those countries continue to emerge onto the world platform, he said.
Arevalo, who attended Catholic school in Bolivia, said Catholics “are very attached to their faith.’’ The pope’s humble origins, work in Argentina and background as a Jesuit will enhance his ability to lead the church, he said, though the pope “will have his hands full’’ with many challenges, including lack of church unity and the impact of sexual abuse cases.
However, a pope from a country neighboring his native Bolivia is an exciting development, Arevalo said.
“I’m thrilled,’’ he said.
The Roman Catholic Church counts more than 1.2 billion members worldwide, and Latin American is home to the largest share of the world’s Catholics.
Rosson also applauded the election of the archbishop from Argentina.
“Pope Francis I will address the quiet flight of some of the faithful who have left the Catholic pews and be a light house of human solidarity,’’ Rosson said in an email. “All Christians will feel a new lifeline.’’
Rosson said the bells of St. Mary’s Church in Cooperstown rang for an hour from time white smoke rose indicating a new pope had been elected until the appearance of the pontiff before tens of thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
“His first gesture is to bow before the people of the world and beg for prayer,’’ Rosson said. “This shall be a papacy of service, not of authority.’’
Rosson said the pope’s greeting was a “first hearkening’’ of change to bring the church into the modern world without compromising the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“This is global moment for a global church,’’ Rosson said. “It’s a time of tremendous hope.’’