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.”
And that, according to Mayo, is normal whenever a new pope is selected.
“We always think in terms of every new pope breaking the mold, but the election of Pope Francis really did,” Mayo said, referring to the new pope being the first non-European pope, the first Jesuit pope and the first pope to take the name Francis.
The selection of the name, Mayo said, reflects the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most revered of Catholic saints. “To me, that denotes the whole attitude of poverty, the lack of materialism that St. Francis stood for,” Mayo said. “That says a lot about the kind of person our new Holy Father is.”
His Jesuit background speaks to his background as a educator and a scholar.
“The Jesuits are a teaching order of priests,” Mayo said. “They have schools and universities all around the world. They rank very high in their ability to provide good education. All of these experiences will serve who he is.”
Because that’s who he has always been, Quijano said.
“This pope will certainly put an emphasis on those who are weak and poor, because here as a cardinal in Argentina he always kept a very close eye on those who are needy,” Quijano said. He also noted that despite the perks that were available to him as a cardinal, “he lives very simply” and that “he will more than likely transfer that austere way of life to the structures of the church, which sometimes are in need of greater austerity.”
Cardinal Bergoglio was also known for being conservative with regards to social issues facing the church, including abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women as priests.
“Those issues have no easy answers,” Mayo said. “I’m sure he will deal with them as constructively as he knows how.”
In any case, he added, “the answers to those questions are pretty well already stated.”
Others in the local religious community noted Wednesday’s papal announcement with expressions of congratulations and good wishes for the new pope.
“On behalf of the leadership and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we extend our warmest wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis and pray he will feel the peace of the Lord as he serves as pontiff of the Catholic Church,” said a statement from the First Presidency of the LDS Church.
“We have been honored and pleased as our two faiths have worked together on issues of faith, morality and service to the poor and needy,” the statement continued. “We value the relationships that have been formed in these joint efforts and are grateful for the good that has been accomplished. We look forward to pursuing together, as the Apostle Paul wrote, all things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.”
The Right Reverend Scott B. Hayashi, Episcopal bishop of Utah, said, “I rejoice that our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have a new leader. I pray that Jorge Mario Bergoglio will be a blessing for the church and for the world.”
Contributing: Trent Toone, Dave McCann, Nkoyo Iyamba
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company