Catholic priests across the North Fork greeted Wednesday’s announcement of a new pope with shock and hope, saying they were impressed by the new pontiff’s humility and concern for the poor.
A conclave of cardinals elected 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the newest pope after a two-day summit at the Vatican.
A Jesuit priest, Cardinal Bergoglio served over the Beunos Aires dioceses, the largest in South America, and became the first non-European pope to be elected in more than a millennium.
Cardinal Bergoglio, who is of Italian descent, adopted the name Francis I, a move that local priests say represents the humility of revered saint Francis of Assisi.
“My breath is taken aback,” said Father Ken Hand of St. Patrick Church in Southold. “There’s so much power behind St. Francis.”
Father Hand was shocked that Cardinal Bergoglio, who was not among the front-runners for pope, would be selected. But he said Francis I made a good first impression by asking for the prayers of those gathered in St. Peter’s Square before blessing the crowd.
“Before he spoke he listened, that says a million words,” Father Hand said. “I’m very moved. That came out of left field for me.”
Father Larry Duncklee of St. John the Evangelist in Riverhead said members of the church were all watching as the new pope was announced.
“The whole staff is sitting around the TV watching this,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
Father Duncklee said Francis I’s talents made it clear “why the spirit guided him.”
“He seems to be the right person at the time,” Father Duncklee said. He also was glad to hear the new pope was from South America, saying the fact that he is fluent in Spanish and Italian bodes well for the church’s changing demographics.
“I think it’s a great thing to have,” Father Duncklee said.
What stood out to Father Thomas Murray of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Greenport was the “universal enthusiasm” he saw in St. Peter’s Square when the new pope was announced.
“It’s just exciting that it’s somebody so different,” he said.
Father Murray agreed that Cardinal Bergoglio’s election reflects the church’s vitality in the Americas.
“The church is so much alive in South America and growing,” he said. Father Murray also hoped the new pope would travel often to visit members of his congregation, as well as emphasize the church’s mission to assist the needy.
“I think we’re in for a surprise maybe,” he said. “It’ll be exciting.”