Utahns see Pope Francis as bridge to future
In his first act as pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina broke with tradition.
Rather than blessing more than 150,000 pilgrims and well-wishers gathered in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday evening as expected, Pope Francis, as he will be called, instead asked them to bless him.
Utah Catholic Mary Reade began to cry as the newly elected Vicar of Christ bowed his head in silent prayer. She didn't stop until the new pontiff exited the balcony.
The choice of the Argentine cardinal "feels good," said Reade, a parishioner at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. "He seems fresh and humble, yet intellectual. I couldn't be more pleased."
She joined fellow Catholics in Utah and across the globe in marveling at all the "firsts" the pope brings to the office first non-European, first South American, first Jesuit and first to take the name Francis, after the beloved saint who exemplified simplicity and peacemaking.
"I have a special fondness for Jesuits," Reade said. "I love their focus on social justice, inclusiveness and being able to reach across class lines."
His new name and Jesuit affiliation "links the past to the future, the old and new world," said Dane Falkner, a Utahn who runs Divine Office, a Catholic prayer website. "He links a love from the Americas to the Italians, who love St. Francis."
Falkner, of Holladay, praised the new pope's "message of love." He believes it will have a significant impact of the global faith.
"The humblest of servants are the ones who will have the greatest effect on the world," he said.
Bergoglio's election stunned Monsignor Joseph Mayo, pastor and rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. The choice symbolizes the church's expansion, he said.
"What that says to the world is that the world is no longer a small European community," Mayo said at a news conference, "but... we are a global community."
Mayo also noted that, though Bergoglio is Argentine, his parents were Italian, and his election symbolically honors immigrants. In Utah, some 70 percent of Catholics are Latino, many of whom are immigrants.
Bergoglio's election also signals the importance of South America, home to up to one third of all Catholics.
"The youth in those countries are so important," Mayo said.
"It has immense power and I think we'll all be learning much more in the days to come."
Jessica Gonzales, who attended Mass at the cathedral Wednesday evening, was thrilled with the new pope, happy to see that he will "reach out to Latinos in South America, where the church has a large base."
She also loved the choice of an Argentinian because of geographic diversity.
Gonzales isn't too worried about the new pope's age â 76.
"With age comes wisdom, I'll have faith in what the cardinals chose," she said. "I hope the best for him and his tenure."
Diego Ciulupa, a Utah Catholic from Argentina, said the new pope is "down to earth in a good way" but also "strong-minded."
As cardinal of Buenos Aires, Francis did not shrink from battles with the government, Ciulupa said.
The future pope opposed gay marriage and abortion rights in the liberal country, the Utah Catholic said, but he also pushed officials to care for the poor and the unemployed.
The Rev. Omar Ontiveros, of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in West Valley City, originally from Mexico, underscores Francis' defense of the poor, but also his openness to all people in need.
In 2001, then Cardinal Bergoglio visited an Argentine hospice, Ontiveros wrote in an email, where he "kissed and washed the feet of 12 patients with AIDS."
The Utah priest is confident, he said, "that God has blessed us with a pope who will confirm us in the faith of Jesus Christ."
On Wednesday, the LDS Church wished the new pope well.
"We extend our warmest wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis I and pray he will feel the peace of the Lord as he serves as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church," the LDS Church governing First Presidency said in a statement.
Â "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 said. "We value the relationships that have been formed in these joint efforts and are grateful for the good that has been accomplished."
Even though Talia Macheski, a Utahn from Argentina, is Jewish, she still celebrates the new pope.
"For me, it's a proud moment," Macheski said, "I hope he can help people in every community of the world."
Tribune reporter Michael McFall contributed to this story.