By Yadira Betances
---- — Local Catholics say they believe the Holy Spirit illuminated the hearts of the cardinals in the conclave when they chose Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope.
Bergoglio, 76, archbishop of Buenos Aires, made history by becoming the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years and the first member of the Jesuit order to lead the Catholic Church. He chose the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, and will be known as Pope Francis I.
“Long live my homeland,” said 88-year-old Ester Aparicio, who moved to the United States from Argentina 38 years ago. “This is such a momentous time for me and my countrymen.”
Aparicio believed the front-runner for pope was Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley. She prayed “the best man win.” Drinking tea and holding an Argentinian flag, she said “I haven’t stopped smiling since I found out.”
The Rev. John Michalowski, pastor of Sts. Mary and Joseph Parish in Salem, N.H. and a Jesuit priest, said he was surprised when a member of his order was chosen. He said Jesuits take a vow of not seeking ecclesiastical honor.
“He’s clearly very much dedicated to the poor as Jesus was,” Michalowski said. “He is a man of simplicity, a humble servant whose goal is to reach out and care for the poor.”
When named archbishop of Argentina, Bergoglio refused to live in the luxurious mansion in Buenos Aires he was entitled to. Instead, he chose to live in a small apartment. He drives himself or takes public transportation instead of having a driver. He prepares all his own meals.
Michalowski said he was moved by Bergoglio’s speech when he greeted the faithful gathered at St. Peter’s Square yesterday and asked them to pray for him.
“When people are chosen for some high honor they think they are above you. By this gesture, he said he’s still very much one of us. I was very touched by that,” Michalowski said.
Both ordained and lay Catholics said they believe Pope Francis I has the ability to steer the church in a new direction following years of controversy, including sexual abuse scandals, the problems with the curia in Rome, and the split within the church over its views of homosexuality, allowing priests to marry, and ordaining women into the priesthood.
“The cardinals made a brave and bold choice,” said John Cronin, a parishioner of St. Michael Church in North Andover. “Pope Francis is going to be a wonderful pope because he is humble and that’s exactly what we need.”
Others like Ana Cardena and Claudia Chase of Methuen are elated that the conclave chose a spiritual leader from South America.
“This is a very exciting moment for everyone because the only increase in the Catholic Church comes from Latin America,” Cardena said.
In addition to the growth of Catholicism in South America, Chase said Pope Francis will help bring about social and political changes.
“We need to go back to our basic morals. By choosing Pope Francis, it is a call to us as Catholics to defend our moral principals,” Chase said.
Although Pope Francis is not well known, the Rev. Timothy Kearney, pastor of All Saints Parish in Haverhill, said the more he learns about him, the more he likes the new pontiff.
“In his home country, he would ride the bus so he could be with the people. As a Jesuit, they have long been known for their work in education and intellectual skills and their spirituality which is what God wants at this moment,” Kearney said.
Kearney said he was not surprised the pontiff came from Latin America.
“Latin America is a part of the world where the church is growing and has many challenges,” he said. “It also teaches us that we as a church are larger than our parish and our archdiocese, so it gives us a new world view.”
Knowing of Pope Francis’ commitment to the poor and marginalized, Kearney said people who are economically challenged and oppressed have a new advocate.
“They will have a new voice in a new way and someone who really understands them,” he said.
Ken Campbell, food director at Lazarus House in Lawrence, agrees.
“The fact that he walks among the people is a great example for us. What better way to impact people’s lives by spending time with them and giving them hope. He’s going to be a leader for us in spreading the good news,” Campbell said.
Campbell said taking the name of St. Francis of Assisi is a sign of humility. St. Francis was a 12th-century friar who became one of the two patron saints of Italy. He was known for his work with the poor and his love of nature and animals. He was the founder of the Franciscan order.
“(Bergoglio) took the name of someone who exudes spirituality, faithfulness and humbleness,” Campbell said.
Frank Audy, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Lawrence and Methuen, said he was not surprised Pope Francis was a runner-up when Pope Benedict was chosen pontiff in 2005.
“This is God’s way of saying we want to stay on line, there’s some unfinished business to be dealt with,” he said.
Both Audy and Campbell said they hope the new pope will focus on making evangelization, or spreading of the Gospel, a priority for the church.
“I see the pope as someone leading us back to the Gospel, the message of Jesus has to be preached and needs to be part of our daily lives,” Audy said.
“We need to continue to grow in spreading the news, growing in our own spirituality and how local parishes serve those in need,” Campbell said.
Audy also hopes Pope Francis inspires more vocations to the priesthood and religious life across the globe and continues World Youth Day, started by Pope John Paul II.
“He needs to invite people to the table of the Lord,” Audy said.