Niagara Gazette — VATICAN CITY — From "the end of the earth," the Catholic Church found a surprising new leader Wednesday, a pioneer pope from Argentina who took the name Francis, a pastor rather than a manager to resurrect a church and faith in crisis. He is the first pontiff from the New World and the first non-European since the Middle Ages.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires who has spent nearly his entire career in Argentina, was a fast and fitting choice for the most unpredictable papal succession — start to finish — in at least six centuries.
Borgoglio has a reputation as being a conservative Catholic and is not expected to make major reforms, a stance many local Catholics agree with.
Deacon Gary Terrana of Niagara Falls believes a conservative pope is a good thing and that Borgoglio is just that.
"He is very staunch when it comes to moral values, and a conservative," Terrana said, adding that he thinks his conservative views will make him a pope similar to John Paul II.
Borgoglio is the first pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit and the first named Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, the humble friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor. The last non-European pope was Syria's Gregory III from 731-41.
"You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome," the new pontiff said as he waved shyly to the tens of thousands who braved a cold rain in St. Peter's Square. "It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the earth, but here we are. Thank you for the welcome."
The 76-year-old Bergoglio, said to have finished second when Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, was chosen on just the fifth ballot to replace the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. In the past century, only Benedict, John Paul I in 1978 and Pius XII in 1939 were faster.
Local Catholics seem genuinely excited about the election of Borgoglio, and used similar words to describe him.
"He seems humble and a people's pope," Redman said.
"He is very humble, a pope of the people," Deacon Tarrana said, as he talked about how as a cardinal Borgoglio used to ride buses with the common people.
Then he smiled and said, "I'm just excited. It's just a great day to be Catholic!"
Particularly for Latin Americans, who number 40 percent of the world's Catholics but have long been underrepresented in the church leadership. On Wednesday, drivers honked their horns in the streets of Buenos Aires and television announcers screamed with elation at the news.
"It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait," said Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar at the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico. "Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed."
Closer to home, Carol Stier, a Catholic from North Tonawanda, said, "I'm thrilled he's from South America because it has almost half the Catholics in the world. He understands the third world."
The new pontiff brings a common touch. The son of middle-class Italian immigrants, he denied himself the luxuries that previous cardinals in Buenos Aires enjoyed. He lived in a simple apartment, often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited slums that ring Argentina's capital.
He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
"As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years — that in each other, we see the face of God," President Barack Obama said in a statement.
In Buffalo, Bishop Richard J. Malone said in a statement, “As the first Holy Father from the Americas, I was impressed with Pope Francis’ humility and spontaneity as he began his first blessing to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, by asking everyone to pause in silent prayer, to pray for him and bless him. That was a powerful moment.”The Associated Press and Jeff Gillette of the Tonawanda News contributed to this report.