The world was watching as white smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel Wednesday and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was selected for the papacy.
Among those watching as Bergoglio took the title of Pope Francis was the Rev. Matthew VanSmoorenburg of St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Church.
“I was here in the office,” he said. “We were watching the announcement and several people who work in our office are Latinos and they were so excited … they were all waiting for him to speak Spanish.”
Pope Francis is the first from South America, with the majority of popes having come from Europe. But with nearly 500 million of the 1.2 billion Catholics hailing from Latin America, VanSmoorenburg said choosing an Argentinian for the papacy was a good idea.
“I’d say we’re 20 percent Latin, at least. It’s one of the most vibrant parts of the Catholic Church,” he said. “That’s going to fulfill the real pastoral need — someone who can really reach out to that part of our church.”
At Pinecrest Academy, students were gathered throughout the Catholic school waiting to see the new pope.
“We had Father Robert [Presutti] and teachers, parents and students all crowded into the room,” said Vivian Heard, school spokeswoman. “And as they were speaking, Father Robert was translating what they were saying in Italian and teaching the children what was going on, what it meant, trying to teach about the new pope and his qualifications.”
As the white smoke rose, Heard said students were gathering in the different buildings.
“We were watching the events as they unfolded,” she said. “None of the kids wanted to leave when the bell rang. They kept showing the balcony on TV and kids were shushing each other, waiting and then finally they had to leave.
“But we did have some parents come into the main office and we were all watching it together as they made the announcement … it was pretty exciting and chaotic.”
The cardinals’ decision came quickly amid fears the process could take a while.
But Presutti said the “quick election of Pope Francis shows the cardinals from the different parts of the world and perspectives are united on the essential mission of the Pope as a witness to Christ and as a shepherd.”
“In this regard, we are now blessed to have Pope Francis, who is known as a humble man, determined in his faith, and an experienced shepherd who able to engage modern issues with reason and learning,” Presutti said.
VanSmoorenburg agreed, noting the quick decision “shows there was a lot of consensus among the cardinals and that means there’s a lot of unity.”
And while VanSmoorenburg is just learning more about the new pope, he said he likes what he’s seen so far, particularly his down-to-earth nature.
“He has a great love for the poor and lives in a real communion with the poor,” VanSmoorenburg said. “He lived in a very simple apartment, he cooked his own meals, he didn’t have a driver, he would take public transportation, and he was a cardinal. So there’s a real nearness to the poor.
“Everybody is excited. We had a lot of people at Mass this morning … people are very happy.”