Utah Catholics react to appointment of pastoral Pope Francis

Published: Wednesday, March 13 2013 10:25 p.m. MDT

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.

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Ricardo, a 29-year-old Catholic from South America, was walking out Salt Lake City’s downtown Cathedral of the Madeleine Wednesday afternoon less than three hours after white smoke curled out of a Vatican chimney half a world away, announcing that a new pope had been selected.

“I think it’s great,” he said, resting his guitar case on the ground beside him. “It's always good to have a new perspective on things. He is a Latin American, but his heritage is Italian. I think he is a great match for right now. He will take the church to a better place.”

Meanwhile, the sixth graders at St. John the Baptist Middle School in Draper were high-fiving when they heard that the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina had selected Francis as his papal name.

"Our homeroom in school is the St. Francis house," said teacher Maria Moynihan. "We love St. Francis."

For herself, Moynihan said she is excited because "we have a new Holy Father to lead our church"

"The Lord knows we need a great leader ... a shepherd for our church right now to unite our church around the world," she said. "It's a very special day."

Such optimism and enthusiasm was typical among Utah Catholics, many of whom were scrambling to learn everything they could about their new Pope Francis.

“We’ve all been trying to gather as much information as we can about this new humble person who has been chosen by two-thirds of the College of Cardinals to be our Holy Father,” said Monsignor Joseph Mayo, pastor of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, during an afternoon press conference at the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Pastoral Center.

Mayo was filling in for the Most Reverend John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, who was out of town the day a new pope was selected. Wester told KSL's Dave McCann during a telephone interview that the selection of the new pope is "a wonderful moment of grace for us."

"It's a great day for Catholics in the Salt Lake area because it's the beginning of a new era for us," Wester said. "We have a new pope, and there is excitement and anticipation to get to know him and see where he's going to lead us."

For his part, Mayo said he was “stunned” by the news.

“I knew nothing about him until today,” he said. “We will learn more in the days, weeks and months ahead.”

A few local Catholics had inside knowledge of the new pope. Patricia Quijano Dark of Sandy, editor of OKEspañol.com, said she learned about Cardinal Bergoglio from her cousin, Father Jose Luis Quijano, a parish priest in Argentina who was the director of the Argentina Institute of Catechism under the former archbishop of Buenos Aires.

“If you look on my cousin’s Facebook page and all of the people who have posted there to talk about the new pope, there is one word you see over and over: ‘felicidades’,” Dark said. “That is Spanish for joy.”

“We are very excited and full of joy,” Quijano said during a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We have feelings of hope and confidence in a change, a renewal in the energy of the church.”

Quijano said the new pope “can be defined as a man of God, a man of inner peace. He always has a transcendental view of life.”

When he heard the news of the new pope’s election, he said he felt “great emotion.”

“He is a Latin American pope, a Jesuit pope, an Argentine pope,” Quijano said. “He is a strong symbol of change in the church. I received the news with a lot of hope.”

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