While crowds filled Roman streets, Catholics in Michiana took to their own parishes to celebrate the new pope. The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio marks many “firsts” for the church and members of the faith say they see this as a new phase for the world’s more than one billion Catholics.
Just as the sun set outside of St. Pius in Granger, more and more people arrived at the church. A special mass of thanksgiving had been planned for the day a new pope was elected, but the white smoke seen just after 2 p.m. led to quick arrangements.
“We were as excited here as they were on St. Peter’s Square,” Monsignor William Schooler said. “When they announced the new pope was from Argentina, we were stunned. We never expected him.”
Bergoglio, who chose the name Francis, comes from South America – a detail which carries special meaning for some parishioners who see their own heritage represented in the new leader.
“It is just beautiful,” said Monica Topa, from Brazil. “The church is really screaming that we want to reach out and make the change we need right now. It is beautiful to see our faith being renewed in this way.”
“The chances were very small,” said Pablo Rodriguez, from Mexico. “We had more cardinals from Italy. But, I knew the one from Argentina had good chances.”
Some experts say that Pope Francis, the first non-European to hold the title, has the potential to bring a new spark to the church.
“Being from outside the area is incredibly symbolic,” said Kathleen Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. “It will mean a great deal not just to people in Argentina or Latin America. It shows that Catholics are ready for a change.”
The pontificate’s first address to the world sticks with these Catholics as they welcome him with open arms.
“The new pope did two things that I was incredibly impressed with,” Schooler said. “He asked the people in the square to bless him, then he asked them to pray for Benedict, which I felt was remarkable. I was so stunned by his humility.”