CHARLOTTE — Local reaction to the news of Pope Francis' election to the papacy has been enthusiastic, particularly among those following the conclave with interest over the past few days online and on social media.
From the start of the conclave on Tuesday until Wednesday afternoon when white smoke was spotted pouring from the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel, conversations have been focused on who would become pontiff. Would he be an American, a return to the Italians, or someone from the developing world? Would he be primarily a theologian or an administrator?
Catholics are now eager to get to know their new shepherd – the first Jesuit and the first from the Americas – and to welcome him as our pope.
Pictured: Mrs. Christmas' kindergarten class at St. Gabriel School had their door decorated in anticipation of naming the new pope and this morning they completed it with the name Pope Francis. (Photo provided by Sharon Broxterman)
"I'm so excited!! I got really emotional. I don't even know you, but I love you! And it's Francis – the first Francis. And a Jesuit. He's a missionary and very devoted to the Holy Father, which is perfect. I don't know much about him, but he's adorable!" exclaimed Katie Sanders, FOCUS team leader at Belmont Abbey College, on Wednesday.
Belmont Abbey College junior Caroline McKinney, crying with excitement, said, "I already have a trip to Rome planned for June! I am beyond excited. This is incredible. I don't even have the words. It is new and exciting that he is from the Americas and that he's a Jesuit. And Francis – a new name!"
The Catholic News Herald's Facebook page exploded with positive reactions moments after Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony Wednesday evening. Comments included "Alleluia!" and "Awesome!" and "Welcome Francis!"
"It's good that the cardinals have open minds. Glad to hear one was selected from Latin America," wrote Julie Coggins.
"It is wonderful to see how the Holy Spirit works. Seeing how for the first time in over 2,000 years we have a non-European pope. This is a very exciting time for our Church. What I am seeing is the Holy Spirit opening up the Church, to non-Italians and non-Europeans, to be the spiritual leaders of the world Church. This seems to me a continuation of what Pope John XXIII started with Vatican Council II. He opened up the windows of the Church to let the air in, to let fresh air flow through all the Church. Now Papa Francisco, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, will continue to air out the Church," wrote Carmen Pantoja-Perez, adding that she hoped the South American pontiff would attract lapsed Latino Catholics back to the faith.
"This is such an exciting time in the Church. To have someone from the Americas is so special. The election of such a simple and humble man is such a blessing to a Church in need of spiritual renewal," wrote Tracy Earl Welliver.
Back at Belmont Abbey College, theology professor Dr. Ron Thomas, echoed Welliver's comments about the renewed emphasis on evangelization: "It is so wonderful to have the Chair of Peter filled again, and have wise and holy leadership. We can now get back to work on the New Evangelization in this Year of Faith. We pledge our prayers and our obedience."
Correspondent Mollie Gordon reported, "While at choir rehearsal, I heard a lot of 'We have a new pope! I found this profound since it was on the grounds of an Episcopalian church. It was also amazing because they shared what the commentators had. There was more hope in their voices than not, and for a moment it seemed like the Church laid down Her weapons of judgment and prejudice in order to embrace our new pontiff. It was a great day."
"A great day" – that was the consensus of all the comments the Catholic News Herald received on Wednesday.
Dr. Bill Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College, summed up much of what is being said around dinner tables, at church, on Twitter and on Facebook among local Catholics:
"The presence of the Holy Spirit, even through electronic media, is truly remarkable to me. Experiencing the news following the conclave, seeing the Holy Father come out to be introduced to the crowds of faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, was like reliving Jesus' words to Peter in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 16: 'And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'
"It's just awesome to consider that the Holy Spirit through the Catholic Church is at work 1,900 years later, with the election of Pope Francis," he said. "It's a remarkable day."
Fourth-graders at St. Patrick School in Charlotte watched the events unfold with Father Christopher Roux, rector of St. Patrick Cathedral. They shared what is was like to see the white smoke rise:
"When I saw the white smoke in the air, my heart was filled completely with joy," Morgan said.
"I felt excited, like something I've never seen before. It was exhilarating, like a bolt of electricity shot through me!," Alexandria exclaimed.
Emily said, "I was so excited because I saw the gray smoke turn to white. My smile was so big and I could not wait to see the new pope come out."
"I felt as if the Holy Spirit had relit the smoulders of the fire on a cold and snowy winter night," Tanner recalled.
"Many thanks to Father Roux for being with us. I felt so happy that I was about to cry," Joseph added.
Students at Appalachian State University in Boone also expressed enthusiasm for the new pope.
Marc Bentley said, "I'm incredibly happy, and was struck with his humility in asking us for our prayers. The Holy Spirit has picked the right man."
And Chris Block quipped, "It was a 'francis'nating selection."
Ellisa Hayes wrote, "What a great day in the history of the Church. A humble pope, who beseeched us to pray for him. Then in choosing St. Francis of Assisi, as his namesake, set the stage for positive connection certain to be felt by many. We are certain to be led by and receive encouragement from our new shepherd, as he is a living example of humility, with a humanness that will be inspirational for us all. Welcome Pope Francis.
— Mary B. Worthington, Amber Mellon and Mollie Gordon, correspondents; SuAnn Howell, senior reporter; and Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
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