Chicagoans celebrate news of first Latin American Pope - FOX 32 News Chicago

Chicagoans celebrate news of first Latin American Pope

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Wednesday evening, the bells rang out as the pope was elected and parishioners gathered for a mass of thanksgiving.

Cardinal Francis George, who was part of the conclave in Rome that elected Francis, appeared on the balcony with other cardinals as the new pope gave his first public blessing.

76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis I, is the first pope from South America. He considers social outreach to be one of the essential jobs of the Catholic Church and in a moment many people called "extraordinary," he knelt to pray for the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square and asked them to pray for him.

The election of the little-known Jesuit from Argentina provoked one common reaction all around the world, including at Holy Name Cathedral Wednesday evening.

"We are undoubtedly still in shock that this is the first Jesuit Pope in the history of our order," Rev. Timothy Kesicki says.

The leader of the Chicago area's Jesuit priests was among those who prayed for the new Pope at a special Mass. A few hours earlier, staffers at DePaul University's Center for World Catholicism had been happily stunned by the live announcement from Rome.

"We have a Pope from Argentina. The first Pope ever from the Americas," Professor Peter Casarella exclaimed. "An Italian from Buenos Aires. This is stupendous and shocking!"

The new Pope has a history of delivering shocks in his home country. In keeping with the Jesuit vow of poverty, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio sold the expensive archbishop's residence in Buenos Aires used by his predecessors, choosing to live in a modest apartment where he does his own cooking and often visits the city's poorest slums. He triggered more shock waves last year with a speech accusing some fellow Church leaders of sinful hypocrisy, declaring they seemed to forget that Jesus Christ himself bathed lepers and shared food with lowly prostitutes.

The new Pope's parents were immigrants from Italy. His father was a railroad worker; his mother, a homemaker. His Italian bore only a slight Spanish accent as he addressed the crowd in St. Peter's Square Wednesday night after his election.

Critics continue to accuse the former Cardinal Bergoglia of having been too cozy with Argentina's former military dictatorship. In previous interviews, he strongly denied the allegations. An estimated 30,000 were killed during the country's so-called Dirty War of the 1970s. Much attention has focused on the military's kidnapping of two Jesuits one week after Bergoglio had dismissed from the order. Bergoglio said he, in fact, secretly interceded with the military to save the lives of the two men. He also said he saved other potential victims during the Dirty War. He said he helped one man who resembled him to escape Argentina by giving the man his own identification papers.

Some hope it signals serious reform of a sometimes corrupt church bureaucracy, despite the new Pontiff's advanced age.

"To take someone who's over 75 says that we're not gonna have another long Pontificate. But the issue here is not longevity," Casarella says. "The issue is witness to Jesus Christ. And that can come from a young Pope or an old Pope."

The new Pope did not shrink from political battles in his native Argentina, strongly opposing abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage. He also advocated for victims of HIV-AIDS, famously visiting a hospice in 2001 where he kissed and washed the feet of a dozen people with AIDS.

Latinos in Chicago are also very thrilled to see the very first Latin American pope. People at Saint Agnes of Bohemia in Little Village came to church to pray for the new pontiff; Pope Francis I.

"He's a very humble person. He's a person who immediately connects with people and that's exactly what we needed in this moment," says Archbishop Delegate Fr. Marco Mercado.

Monica Beltrami, a tribunal judge for the archdiocese is from the people's native country, Argentina. She also had the pleasure of meeting him in Buenes Aires. She says the new pontiff is very approachable.

"When I was finalizing the first meeting I called his office and thinking I was going to talk to his secretary and he personally answered the phone. I was surprised. And when I left from the meeting he accompanied me to the elevator," Beltrami says.

Parishioners of all ages and backgrounds were happy with the swift decision.

"I'm excited that we get a new one, there was nobody," says 10-year-old Parishioner Jamileth Fuentes.

"Especially since the new pope is from Argentina so it's exciting to be under new administration and se habla Espanol," says seminarian Jerry Ortiz.

The hope in churches like this is that Pope Francis I can be a great influence and bring people back to the church.

"I think it's going to be a good influence especially for the youth to see such a leader come from the Latino community," says Father Tom Boharic of St. Agnes of Bohemia.

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