So. Fla. clergy, Argentineans, Catholics welcome Pope Francis
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (WSVN) -- South Florida clergy and parishioners welcomed the news of the first elected Latin American pope with enthusiasm, Wednesday.
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who assumes papal duties as Pope Francis, is more than up to the task of leading the Catholic Church as it faces 21st Century concerns. "Latin America was a natural place for a future pope to come from," he said.
Wenski, who himself presides over a predominantly Hispanic congregation, added that Bergoglio's 12-year stint as Buenos Aires' cardinal has prepared him for the obstacles he will face as pontiff. "Argentina is very large see. It's a country that has many of the same problems that we face," he said. "I think he comes as a pope that is well acquainted with the pastoral challenges that us bishops face throughout the world."
The archbishop dismissed criticism that Bergoglio, 76, is too old for Catholics who were hoping for a younger candidate to be elected. "As they say now, 76 is the new 56," Wenski said.
Like Pope Francis, Father Roberto Cid at the Archdiocese of Miami is from Argentina. "The great joy that I feel inside is because of the church and because of the promises of Christ," he said.
An Argentinean citizen visiting South Florida was gratified at the conclave's selection. Florencia said she was especially touched that Bergoglio chose to adopt the name of the saint after her alma mater. "St. Francis was the saint of our elementary school, and it's really great that he's actually chosen that name," she said.
Florencia said she hopes the new pope will follow in the footsteps of his namesake, who looked after the disadvantaged. "He was really into animals, and he related to people who were apart from society. He wanted to protect the poor people and give them more hope," she said.
The South American visitor said she imagines Argentineans back home are rejoicing over Bergoglio's election. "I think it's a completely emotional moment for all the Argentinean people, and we all feel really proud. It was something we never expected," she said. "It's a strange feeling because I can't tell it with words. I feel so proud and so happy. I wish him all the best."
Argentinean native Norma Farcus said she never thought a cardinal from her country would ever reach papacy. "To have a pope from our country is nice," she said.
Students and faculty at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in West Miami-Dade who gathered to watch the live Rome broadcast were excited over the fact that, like them, Bergoglio is a Jesuit. "We've never had a Jesuit pope before," said Father Pedro Suarez. "I hope he does a good job, so he can contribute to the welfare and the good to the world, not only for the Jesuits but for all the church," he added.
Many of the students were rooting for Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, because one of their teachers, Deacon Robert O'Malley, was the candidate's cousin. "This is the work of the Holy Spirit," said Deacon O'Malley.
The Jesuit students expressed their desire for the future of the Catholic Church. "Hopefully, as a lot of people have said, he will modernize the Catholics," said sophomore Daniel Botero. Another student wants to see Pope Francis be more "inclusive of third world countries, seeing as they're extremely beneficial to the church, they're strong followers of the church."
All eyes were also glued to TV sets at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. "It's awesome, it's great, it's a great day for the Catholic Church and a great day for the kids here at school," said James Connolly, a teacher at the school. "I think it's a super thing, it's historical, and it's also very spiritual," he continued.
Some other faculty members were surprised that a Latin American pope has finally been chosen. "It's time," said Geri Dieffenbacher. "I'm glad he's from the Americas. They're breaking away from traditional ethnicities and expanding."
Many students at St. Thomas Aquinas have spent the past several weeks learning how the election of a new pope works. "It's kind of cool because I've never seen anything like that before," said student Kayla Kisseadoo. "I'm not actually Catholic, and seeing that was different, so it was cool to learn about and see how the process works," she added.
Hopes are high at this school for Pope Francis and what he will bring to the papacy. "We've never experienced a Latin American pope before, so there's no reason to think that he will not be as glorious and wonderful for us as [his predecessors]," said assistant principal Denise Aloma.
The choir at Coconut Grove's Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart is preparing to travel to Rome to sing at Saint Peter's Square on Easter Sunday. "To be doing it now, at what will probably be the first concert for the new Holy Father, is an extraordinary honor," said Sister Suzanne Cooke, the school's headmistress.
Dr. Walter Busse, the choir's director, has taken his students to the Vatican on two previous occasions. He revealed the meticulous selection process for the choir members who will perform for the newly-elected pope took almost two years. "It's an incredible experience. I'm really looking forward to the girls experiencing this," he said.
The 41 young women who will be traveling to Italy will perform together with Sistine Chapel Choir. "We follow after what the Sistine Chapel Choir does. They give us the music in advance and prepare that music, and we sing along with them," he said.
Choir members balance their musical duties with a full course-load, after school activities and athletics. They come together for rehearsal weekday mornings at 7 a.m. and sometimes on Saturdays, as well. "In the end, it's all worth it because we get so much done," said member Rosana Smith.
Her colleague, Chelsea Blanco, echoes her classmate's sentiment. "We've prepared so much, and it's such a wonderful experience. I mean, it's once in a lifetime. I've never done something like that before," she said.
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