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Local Catholics praise new Pope Francis as humble man

  • Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.  (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

    Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Judy Murray, third from left, whispers to her daughter Julia Murray, second from left, explaining the announcement of a new Pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, as the Catholic faithfull gather at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.  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.  (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

    Judy Murray, third from left, whispers to her daughter Julia Murray, second from left, explaining the announcement of a new Pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, as the Catholic faithfull gather at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. 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. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Crowds cheer after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

    Crowds cheer after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.  (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

    Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.  (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
  • Judy Murray, third from left, whispers to her daughter Julia Murray, second from left, explaining the announcement of a new Pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, as the Catholic faithfull gather at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.  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.  (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
  • Crowds cheer after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
  • Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.  (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Area Catholics were pleased when Pope Francis — a man they overwhelmingly described as humble — stepped onto the St. Peter’s Basilica balcony as the newest supreme pontiff.

“I’m very delighted with the new pope, especially because he’s so humble,” said Noreen Beebe, 65, of Florence. “In Argentina, he was living in a little apartment and making his own meals. And he was a big help to the poor in Argentina, so he can relate to the needs of the poor everywhere. His care for people is his biggest asset, I think.”

Like Beebe, other Pioneer Valley Catholics said that Pope Francis — known as Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio before the conclave elected him pope Wednesday afternoon — is a scholarly man who lives an austere life, cares for the poor, and is likely to keep the church headed in a conservative direction.

“I’m ecstatic and joyful at the election of our new pope,” said the Rev. Gary Dailey, the chaplain and director of the Newman Catholic Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “The Holy Spirit chose him through our electorate so it has to be a good choice.”

Although some international media have called Francis a moderate, Dailey said he considers him conservative.

“But above all else, he is a holy and humble man, which I think everyone saw today when he was on the balcony and he asked everyone for a moment of silence to pray for him. That was an unprecedented moment,” Dailey said. “He asked them to pray for him in his work as the supreme pontiff.”

Beebe said Francis’ request for their prayers was “very appealing.”

“He also bowed to the people and he just wore his white garments, not the red, to show he is humble,” she said. “Everything seems very much like Christ, and that’s good.”

She is pleased he is conservative. “The church is a church of tradition and he’ll maintain that tradition, but be more open to the people and more relevant to the world and to the youth,” she said.

Florence resident Robert Gibowicz, a parishioner in Northampton’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, said Pope Francis’ election is “great news for all mankind.”

“I’d compare him to Pope John Paul II, who was a very holy man and a humble man,” said Gibowicz, 69.

John Bledsoe, 75, a deacon at St. Patrick’s Church in South Hadley, said Pope Francis led a simple life and “loves the poor.”

“I think that’s why he chose the name of Francis,” he said. “St. Francis (of Assisi) was noted for being kind to animals and the poor. He was from a wealthy family and gave it all up, so he was in tune with a lot of people in the world today — poor.”

The conclave’s choice makes Francis the first Latin American pope.

“I’m so pleased to have a Latin American from Argentina for our new pope,” Monsignor Juan Garcia, vicar for Latino ministry for the Springfield Diocese, said Wednesday afternoon. “It speaks of the importance of the Catholic Latin population in the world.” About 40 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live in Latin America.

Dailey said Francis is also the first Jesuit named pope. “I’m sure the Jesuits are rejoicing,” he said.

Jesuits are part of a religious order called the Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. They are known as scholars, missionaries and social justice advocates, but some Jesuits have clashed with leadership in Vatican City.

“Jesuits sometimes go head to head with the pope or the Vatican, but husbands and wives go head to head sometimes, too,” Bledsoe said, chuckling.

Beebe said the election is proof that the prejudice against Jesuits is a thing of the past. “Most Jesuits are teachers and missionaries, and I think that’s an asset to a pope because he will be able to convey himself well and be articulate,” she said.

Looking ahead

Bledsoe said Francis has plenty of issues in front of him that he can “pick up and run with.”

“There are a lot of problems in the church now,” he said. He predicted the pope would focus some attention on trying to right the wrongs that occurred in the clergy sex abuse scandal. “And hopefully he will come up with some way to help the poor in the world, maybe he’ll concentrate on that.”

Gibowicz said he thinks Pope Francis will follow in the footsteps of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. “I don’t think we’ll see any major changes in Catholic policies. I think he will want to build the faith of the people, to get them back to the church,” he said.

A recent scandal in which leaked Vatican documents revealed possible corruption and cronyism within Vatican City makes Gibowicz hope the new pope will encourage more transparency in the church.

“I think there needs to be more openness. I think one of the biggest mistakes the Catholic hierarchy has made was to hide the pedophile issues,” he said.

Dailey said he hopes the new pope will focus on spreading the gospel to non-Catholics, or even to those who have drifted from the church.

“I think evangelization is so important, especially here in America where many have departed from the church,” he said. “Maybe through his humility, his simplicity, he can endear himself to many and draw them back to the church.”

Gibowicz said that though he didn’t have a favorite among the supposed frontrunners for pope, it would have been nice to have an American pope with ties to Massachusetts lead the church. Cardinal Sean O’Malley is the archbishop of the Boston Diocese, and took over the post in the midst of the clergy sex scandal.

“He’s done a lot for the Boston Diocese and tried to clean up the scandal with the bad doings,” Gibowicz said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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