Father Michael Ramler, with St. Mildred Church in Somerset, knows the election of the Roman Catholic Church’s new leader is a historic one.
Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the first pontiff to be elected from a non-European country in more than 1,000 years.
“This is the first person from what’s called the ‘New World,’” said Ramler. “He is more cosmopolitan, a world pope, someone who has experience out of Italy and out of Europe.
“With the way demographics are, it’s fitting that they pick somebody from (South America),” Ramler added.
It’s estimated that around 40 percent of the world’s Catholics are located in the Americas. Pope Francis, who is 76, is replacing Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the world with the announcement of his resignation in February. Pope Francis will now lead the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics.
Ramler said he and church staff members were going about daily church business Wednesday when they saw on an office computer that white smoke — signaling a new pope had been elected — was appearing at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City in Italy.
“All of a sudden, one of the ladies in the office started yelling that the smoke was white,” said Ramler.
The election of Pope Francis brought to an end a relatively short conclave, and he was elected during a fifth ballot.
“The process is not at all like our political election process,” said Ramler. “It’s a more prayerful, reflective process.
“They ask ‘What problems do we have? Who can lead us through this?’” Ramler added.
Pope Francis has already garnered attention for his chosen name. It's the first time the name is being used by a pope. Pope Francis chose his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi because he is a lover of the poor, according to Vatican spokespeople.
The name is fitting for a man who didn’t partake in the luxuries of the Archdiocese of Argentina. Pope Francis reportedly always took the public bus, and he often reached out by visiting poor communities in Argentina himself.
“He seems to be progressive when it comes to social issues,” said Ramler.
Ramler also noted that Pope Francis’ first public prayer, one in which he asked that everyone pray for him and pray for his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was a humble one.
Ramler, who spoke to the Commonwealth Journal on Wednesday, said they would pray for Pope Francis during Wednesday evening’s mass.
Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, of which St. Mildred is a part of, released the following statement on Pope Francis’ election:
“Christ commissioned Peter as chief among the Apostles, entrusting to him the keys of the kingdom and the care of the flock. Since Jesus commissioned him to lead the Church, two hundred and sixty-six men have exercised the ministry entrusted to Peter the fisherman, Peter the prince of the apostles.
“Since Peter, the ministry of the papacy has been exercised by a different face, a different individual, for each age and time: Saints and sinners, warriors and judges. But the papacy is not a dynasty. The papacy-a series of bishops in the Petrine ministry of faith, unity, and love-occupies an indispensable role in the Catholic Church.
“I urge everyone to pray for the Church and in a very special way for Pope Francis as he assumes this singular and central ministry."