Pope Francis a pleasant surprise to local Catholics

The election of Argentine Jorge Bergoglio as pope on Wednesday was greeted with surprise, excitement and questions of “Who’s he?” among Roman Catholic parishioners across Snohomish County.

Bergoglio, who chose the name Pope Francis, is the first leader of the Catholic Church to hail from the Americas.

“I’m thrilled,” said the Rev. Phillip Bloom at St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church in Monroe. “I was really touched by the fact that he had everybody pray for Pope Benedict. It just brought tears to my eyes. It’s obviously thrilling to see a Latin American become pope.”

Bloom also was impressed that the Jesuit pontiff chose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi. The 12th century saint was born into a wealthy family but chose to live a life of poverty and follow the gospel of Jesus as closely as he could.

“It’s obviously a gesture to the Franciscans,” he said.

Classes were stopped twice Wednesday at Archbishop Murphy High School near Everett — first when the white smoke appeared at The Vatican to signal that a new pope had been elected and later to announce who it was. Students and staff then took a few minutes to pray for the church’s new leader.

Mathew Schambari, Archbishop Murphy president, said the demographics of the Catholic Church are changing and the choice of someone from Latin America recognizes that.

The new pope’s Jesuit background also is significant, he said.

“That is an order of people who have been very instrumental in the growth of the church and Catholic education around the world,” Schambari said.

Glacier Peak High School Principal Jim Dean grew up attending Jesuit-taught schools.

He learned about the naming of a new pope from a custodian during lunch duty.

Minutes later, he received a text from his wife.

“The fact that he is a Jesuit came as a total surprise to me,” Dean said. “For me it’s a sign of hope. Jesuits are all about thinking.”

Jesuits, also known as the Society of Jesus, are a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church known for their work in education, intellectual research and missionary efforts.

Dean said many Catholics will be eager to learn more about the new pontiff.

Bergoglio, 76, is the son of Italian immigrants. He became the first Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was appointed cardinal three years later.

A chemistry major in college, Dean was intrigued to learn that the new pope first was trained as a chemist.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I know how chemists think.”

Kathleen Gutierrez of Everett had been waiting eagerly for the announcement of the next pontiff. She was watching TV news Wednesday morning but had to go to a mission committee meeting at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett at noon. Someone broke into the meeting to announce the news.

“Like a lot of people, I was wondering: What’s his name? Where is he from and how old is he?”

Gutierrez, a retired English as a Second Language administrator for the Everett School District, said she, too, was encouraged to learn that the new pope is from Latin America.

“I certainly love the name Pope Francis and what it represents,” she said.

Tom Hoban is a University of Notre Dame graduate and Everett businessman who serves on the Archbishop Murphy Board of Directors.

Hoban said the naming of a new pope is significant for people inside and outside of the Catholic Church.

“The reason the selection of the pope is relevant is that Catholicism’s unique mission in service to everyone, regardless of faith, affects so many more people than just the 1 billion who call themselves Catholic,” he said. “Locally, examples of that mission are all around us in the form of Archbishop Murphy High School, Providence Hospital, Catholic Community Services, and the like.”

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who was at St. Peter’s Square in Rome when Pope John Paul II was elected nearly 35 years ago, said many people in the United States might not know much about the new pope and that time “will reveal the gift God has given us…”

“His choice of the name Francis signals that he strives to be a man of humility and love for the poor, and the fact that he asked the hundreds of thousands standing before him to pray for him further underscores his humility,” Sartain said in a written statement.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

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