The Ottumwa Courier

March 13, 2013

Excitement from area priests over new pope


Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — Argentine Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope Wednesday and chose the papal name Francis, becoming first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium.

A stunned-looking Bergoglio shyly waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter's Square, marveling that the cardinals had had to look to "the end of the earth" to find a bishop of Rome.

He asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose stunning resignation paved the way for the tumultuous conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy. The cardinal electors overcame deep divisions to select the 266th pontiff in a remarkably fast conclave.

The conclave's speed was one of the things that struck Fr. Patrick Helgendorf, pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Ottumwa.

"All the sources I was watching said that this wouldn't happen this quickly," he said.

But surprise has become an element of the past several conclaves. The 1978 conclave elected John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in hundreds of years. In 2005, the conclave produced Benedict XVI, the first German pope in centuries.

The conclave was followed closely by media worldwide, with live video showing the smokestack on the Sistine Chapel online. Then cameras turned to the balcony from which the new pope would give his first blessing as pontiff.

"We were all watching. [Francis is] the first Jesuit pope. He's chosen a new name, he's the first from the new world," Helgendorf said.

Fr. Bernie Weir of St. Mary of the Visitation said the election of a South American pope will have an electrifying effect on his congregation.

"I think they'll be very excited about it because half of the parish is from Latin America," he said.

Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict — who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.

The 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests.

Elected on the fifth ballot, Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Pope Benedict XVI's surprise resignation.

A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope.

For comparison's sake, Benedict was elected on the fourth ballot in 2005 — but he was the clear front-runner going into the vote. Pope John Paul II was elected on the eighth ballot in 1978 to become the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

Both Weir and Helgendorf said conclaves are much less predictable than they were only a few decades ago.

"Before John Paul II you just assumed [the pope] would be Italian," Weir said.

Helgendorf quoted a saying that downplays the importance of entering the conclave as a favorite: "He who goes in pope, comes out a cardinal."

Weir had an afternoon mass already scheduled for Wednesday. In it, he said, he would get to use the new pope's name for the first time. You could hear his excitement.

Information from the Associated Press was used with this story.