By Ashley Graves
The Cullman Times
As white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel in Rome Wednesday, halfway across the world bells on the campus of St. Bernard Prep School could be heard chiming from blocks away.
A day after the papal conclave gathered for the first time, a new head of the Catholic church was chosen.
While thousands crowded St. Peter’s Square to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, monks at St. Bernard gathered around the TV to see the outcome.
“I think everybody was sort of surprised,” Father Joel Martin, president of St. Bernard, said. “It was a big surprise to me because I didn’t know much about him. But, it was a happy moment.”
As he watched coverage of the event, Martin noted he found it interesting that Bergoglio is the first Jesuit pope, as well as the first pope from the Americas. He will also be the first pope with the name Francis, associating himself with the humble 13th-century Italian preacher who lived a life of poverty.
“He seems like a highly respected man,” Martin said.
In choosing a 76-year-old pope, the cardinals clearly decided they didn’t need a vigorous, young pope who would reign for decades, but rather a seasoned, popular and humble pastor who would draw followers to the faith and help rebuild a church stained by scandal.
The cardinal electors overcame deep division about the future of the church to select the 266th pontiff in a remarkably fast, five-ballot conclave. Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict — who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
Sacred Heart Benedictine Sister Lynn McKenzie said she wasn’t surprised at how fast the process moved.
“I predicted we would have one today,” she laughed.
McKenzie said she watched the event unfold via a pope app she downloaded to her phone. As like many other locals, she said she too didn’t know much about Pope Francis.
“I was surprised it was someone from Argentina,” she said. “But he sounds like a humble and holy man, and I hope he will lead us well.”
The longtime archbishop of Buenos Aires is the son of middle-class Italian immigrants and is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals, and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has also shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.Bergoglio, who as a teen lost a lung to infection, showed that humility on Wednesday, saying that before he blessed the crowd he wanted their prayers for him and then he bowed his head amid the silence from the crowd."Good night, and have a good rest,” he said before going back into the palace.
Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially as pope on Tuesday, according to the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at email@example.com