Local Catholics celebrate the 266th pope

Local Catholics expressed overwhelming joy to news that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the new pope March 13 in Rome.

"Habemus Papam," said Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. "I rejoice that Pope Francis has answered the Lord's call to serve as successor to St. Peter, the vicar of Christ on earth.

"On behalf of the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Arlington, I offer our new Pope Francis the support of our daily prayers, loyalty and fidelity," he said.

"As the white smoke billowed forth from the chimney and the bells of the basilica began to ring jubilantly, I eagerly awaited the announcement of our new pope. When he walked out onto the balcony, my heart was filled with joy. In his first moments as our pontiff, I was so touched by Pope Francis' humble petition that we first pray for him, before he then bestowed his first papal blessing on the world.

"This is a very exciting and hope-filled time for Catholics the world over, and most assuredly for our brothers and sisters in Latin America who cannot but take great delight in the election of a native son from Argentina," Bishop Loverde said.

"Throughout my life, I have become increasingly aware how the Lord has provided for the church the shepherd best suited to the particular needs and challenges of the time. I know that this is the case once more. I ask our diocesan family of faith to join me in continued prayers for the pontificate of Pope Francis and for the entire church."

Father José E. Hoyos, a native of Colombia and director of Arlington's Spanish Apostolate, said he is "very, very happy and proud."

"When I heard the news I just knelt down and gave thanks to the Lord. The winds of the Holy Spirit have come to Latin America," he said.

Father Hoyos said he hopes to seize the moment and work with other priests to promote new vocations in Latin America. "We now have a wonderful role model for vocations," he said.

Father Hoyos met then-Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, two years ago. He said he was impressed by how humble, easy-going and sensitive the cardinal was. "He was very smiley, asking questions about others, very charismatic.

"I would celebrate no matter who the new pope was," said Father Hoyos, "but this is very special for Latin American people and everyone. It shows that anyone can become pope - if they are African, Asian, from wherever."

Sister Clare Hunter, director of the diocesan Respect Life Office and a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist, said the new pope's chosen name seems a perfect fit given what the world has learned about his life.

When the then-cardinal served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, his style was low-key and close to the people. He rode the bus, visited the poor, lived in a simple apartment and cooked his own meals. To many in Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio was known simply as "Father Jorge."

The pope's choice of Francis as a name is a "call to a sense of simplicity - a profound humility in the Lord," said Sister Clare.

St. Francis takes God's command to rebuild His church literally, she said. The new pontiff's name thus "is a sign of the pope rolling up his sleeves."

"We've always been a church of building up the body of Christ. This is a renewed sense of that. It also is a reminder that the church is rebuilding one stone at a time, one person at a time - there's something really beautiful in that."

The pope's name also has special meaning to parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, as well as students at the parish school.

St. Francis Principal Patricia Barber said that every day students pray the prayer of St. Francis at 3 p.m. The afternoon the pope was introduced to the world, students had just prayed and were gathering for carpools in the parking lot. When Barber made the announcement to students and parents, a big cheer went up and Franciscan Father Kevin J. Downey, pastor, rang the church bells.

"I have to admit, when I heard the news about the pope I was a bit overwhelmed," said Father Downey. "I'm thrilled and filled with hope."

Gabriel Fornaresio, a parishioner of St. Francis, works in the diocesan Information Services Office. Originally from Buenos Aires, he has lived in the United States for the past 13 years. He was familiar with Cardinal Bergoglio before last week's announcement because he used to watch the cardinal's televised homilies with his mother back in Argentina. The cardinal lived very close to Fornaresio's grandparents and cheered for the soccer team from Fornaresio's neighborhood.

"There are so many things that are so familiar about him," Fornaresio said. "My mom is ecstatic. She said, 'I cannot believe this, this is fantastic. This is fantastic that the world is going to see what he has done for us here (in Argentina).'"

Fornaresio believes an Argentinian pope will inspire a lot of Argentinian Catholics to deepen their faith or come back to the church.

"I think it's going to help to reconnect those who are still Catholic, but they don't go to church every Sunday," he said. "He is more like a friend and you want to be with friends. You want to be where your friends are."

Following daily Mass at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington March 14, churchgoers spoke with joy about Pope Francis. Gracie Ortiz, a parishioner of St. Mary Church in Alexandria and director of senior services for Arlington diocesan Catholic Charities, said she is "very, very excited."

Elisabetta Hary, an Italian and a parishioner of the cathedral, echoed Ortiz. Hary is devoted to St. Francis of Assisi and was delighted at the news of the new pope and his name. Whenever she visits Italy she always goes to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi to pray. "I am glad and I am happy for (Pope Francis') election because he is very humble," Hary said.

Emily Anderson, director of youth ministry at St. James Church in Falls Church, she said she was impressed with Pope Francis' first few moments in the papacy.

"I was very struck by the fact that he began in prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict and for himself and led us through prayers that are so familiar and comforting, and the fact that he silenced the entire crowd and the entire world watching in the first (few) minutes of his papacy," Anderson said.

"I think he's just going to be a really humble man and I think that's always good for young people to see and for old people to see," she said.

She believes the election of the new pope has been a teaching moment for many of the young people she works with.

"Benedict came into office eight years ago, so I don't know that (some of the people I work with) had the same experience that they're having now," she said. "The whole world has been captivated and in this moment, the world gets to see what I see every week - that young people are excited about the faith and what to see what is old, what is true, what is beautiful."

Don Garcia is a former Jesuit seminarian who now attends St. Ann Church in Arlington. He believes Pope Francis will be a great pope, partly due to his Jesuit training, which requires much inward reflection.

"To help other people, you have to know where you're coming from," Garcia said. "I think (Pope Francis) is a man who spends time reflecting on who he is and what he wants to do."

Garcia also admires the new pope's humility and pastoral attitude.

"I think it's nice to have a pope who was a pastor and had to live with (everyday) problems," Garcia said. "I think it will help him to understand. He seems to be a very well-grounded man."

The entire Christendom College community in Front Royal welcomed news of the election. The bells of Christ the King Chapel rang throughout the afternoon in celebration.

College President Timothy O'Donnell was in Rome for the papal conclave providing voiceover coverage for Vatican TV and Radio as well as appearing as a guest on EWTN's live programing from Rome.

"It was an unforgettable experience to be in St. Peter's Square and to be with him and to pray with him and for him in a moment of silence amidst hundreds of thousands of people. His humility and deep prayer life will surely enable him to bear the great responsibility of the office. We pledge our loyalty to him and unite ourselves to him in prayer for a pontificate filled with abundant blessings."

Editor Michael Flach and staff writers Katie Collins, Katie Bahr and Dave Borowski contributed to this report.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970