Election of Argentinean Pope Francis a surprise to some Mount Pleasant area Catholics


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Pope Francis I
The newly elected Pope Francis I stands on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013, in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics (Maurizio Brambatti/Ansa/Zuma Press/MCT)

White smoke poured out of the conclave at the Sistine Chapel Wednesday afternoon as the first sign that a cardinal had been chosen to be the next pope.

Argentinean Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aries, stepped out in white robes and greeted the public warmly as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jeremy Priest, a pastor associate at Saint Mary’s University Parish, 1405 S. Washington St., was one of many Catholics who were surprised by the outcome.

“We didn’t expect the fifth ballot would be the decisive one,” Priest said. “I thought it would have been the next day at the least.”

Priest said some students were as surprised as he was because the normal age for a new pope is in the mid-60s, while Pope Francis is 76.

“He wasn’t on anybody’s list, because they thought he was past the desirable age,” he said. “Pope John Paul II was 58 when he was elected and served for a good time because of it.”

Francis, then Bergoglio, came in second to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005's conclave voting to determine who would succeed John Paul II, according to The New York Times. Benedict, 85, resigned last month, citing old age and health problems.

Saint Mary's set up a pool similar to the NCAA men’s basketball March Madness tournament as a fun way for participants to guess who the new pope would be. Candidates were placed in a bracket and participants made their picks.

“We had a pope bracket up," Priest said. "There was a cool graphic on Facebook, and it was March Madness Vatican-style, so instead of the Sweet Sixteen, it was the Sweet Sistine. But Pope Francis wasn’t anywhere on there in terms of the bracket.”

Bergoglio chose his name after St. Francis of Assisi. This makes Francis as the first pope in 1,100 years to take a name no one else had, Priest said.

Francis also became the first pope from the Americas and the first Jesuit pope.

“As far as a global reach, (Jesuits) are philosophers, scientists and archeologists,” Priest said. “The surprise is because the Jesuits have so much influence, so much reach that a Jesuit pope would be like electing Bill Gates president of the United States.”

Priest could see why Beneditct stepped down because of his health. In his mind, he appeared frail and out of energy from continuously serving God at that age.

“(Pope Benedict XVI) just didn’t have the energy. He was 85, and I saw a picture of him a few days after he made the announcement,” Priest said. “I had never seen him look that way before.”

Bobby Tull, an Ann Arbor senior, was watching the chimney on his tablet with a friend when the smoke turned white, making both go crazy with excitement.

“My friend was being funny and said, ‘Watching a chimney is about as fun as watching paint dry,’” Tull said. But as soon as he said that, we saw the white smoke.”

As people came into the church, Tull said they decided to put the video on the projector.

“A lot of us had learned who some of the contenders were,” Tull said. “(Francis) came out of no where, but I thought it was a solid name.”

Tull joined the church in 2005 and had heard of John Paul II and was familiar with Benedict XVI, but this seemed to be different.

“This was my first time really experiencing having a pope elected,” Tull said. “And I realized this would have an impact on my religion for at least the next 10 years to come.”


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