TRAVERSE CITY — Area priests praised the selection of the new pope, and said his Latin American origins and historic embrace of poverty are a blessing to the church.
Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope Wednesday and chose the name Francis. He became the first pontiff from outside Europe in more than a millennium.
The Rev. Mariano Dellagiovanna, who serves two Leelanau County parishes, said he is happy to see someone from his native country, although he doesn’t know Pope Francis.
“I think it will help us much more, especially here in North America, to see the church is something from the whole world. It’s universal,” he said.
Bishop Bernard Hebda of the Diocese of Gaylord called it a “wonderful reflection of the life we find in the church in Latin America,” home to half of the world’s Catholics.
“It’s a great recognition of the church in Latin America and what it offers to the rest of the universal church,” he said.
Looking stunned, Francis shyly waved yesterday to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square. He marveled that the cardinals needed to look to “the end of the earth” to find a bishop of Rome.
In choosing a 76-year-old pope, the cardinals clearly decided that they didn’t need a vigorous, young pope who would reign for decades but rather a seasoned, popular pastor who would draw followers to the faith.
“When he began to speak, he spoke with great tenderness. I was really moved,” Hebda said. “Before giving his blessing, he asked for a moment of prayer for him. A humble, humble act, and really a recognition that his responsibility will require the prayers of the whole church.”
The Rev. Michael Janowski of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lake Leelanau also encouraged prayers.
“He’s got the weight of the whole church on his heart right now,” Janowski said. “I think he might have initially been a little reluctant to step into the role.”
Hebda said the chosen name of Francis is “fascinating” and looks forward to hearing the pope’s explanation in the next several weeks.
“St. Francis had a great role as an evangelizer and embraced poverty and humility,” Hebda said, referring to St. Francis of Assisi.
“Cardinal Bergoglio was famous among cardinals because he abandoned the bishop’s palace and lived in a simple apartment in Buenos Aires. Not only did he not have a chauffeur, he’d take public transport. There’s a great sense of humility and simplicity.”
Dellagiovanna said that Francis, as bishop, was known for defending the poor in South America.
“He embraced poverty as something good, as a virtue,” he said. “We certainly receive the message from the Lord that when we are needy, the Lord acts more strongly in our lives.”
Janowski said Francis also is the first Jesuit, a religious order characterized by their devotion to study and allegiance to the pope, he said.
Francis is known as a distinguished scholar and pastor, said Hebda, who attended the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and knows its rigor.
“I’m thrilled we have a pope who is a phenomenal intellect,” he said.
Hebda said he is coincidentally going to Rome and hopes to witness the pope’s installation.
Father Andy Buvala, 92, of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church in Peshawbestown, wishes good health for the pope.
“I can sympathize with him because I’ve gone beyond that age,” he said.
Janowski hopes Francis can restore the passion of the Catholic faith to those who have wandered.
“He needs to somehow unify the whole church and bring back it into the forefront, the focus of our lives,” he said.
Associated Press contributed to this report.