For Delia Argerich Nieto, her connection to the historic election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th Roman Catholic pope is linked by their similar roots.
While she and Pope Francis I are from Argentina, Argerich Nieto said she is thrilled the College of Cardinals elected a person who comes from a region where almost half of the world’s Catholics, more than 500 million, reside.
“It was very exciting,” said the 74-year-old Centerville resident, who jumped up and screamed with joy upon hearing the news. “I am very proud to have a pope from Argentina, particularly one who is good and well-educated and from humble origins.”
There was speculation the next pope to replace Pope Benedict XVI would hail from either Latin America, Africa or Asia. Argerich Nieto believed Bergoglio and her personal friend, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri also of Argentina, both had a chance. Bergoglio was apparently the runner-up to Pope Benedict to replace Pope John Paul II.
She said Bergoglio’s election is a blessing for the Americas and the Catholic community. She and many area Catholics expects Pope Francis I will have the same influence as his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi: be a reformer.
“St. Francis was the one who reformed the Church,” she said.
The Rev. Samuel Gonzalez, the Hispanic community chaplain for St. Mary Catholic Church in Dayton and five other area parishes, said Bergoglio’s selection is a sign that diversity has been embraced by the church hierarchy.
He pointed out that each of the all of the past three popes are from countries other than Italy. Pope Benedict XVI was from Germany and Pope John Paul II from Poland.
Gonzalez, a native of Columbia, said he prayed for the papal election regardless of the next pope’s nationality because the church is universally for all people. Still he said Bergoglio’s selection is significant to Hispanics. “We are happy, and we are blessed for this election when you consider that the Holy Spirit inspired the cardinal to elect the new pope,” he said. “Forty-two percent of the catholics in the world are Hispanic.”
Catholic parishioner Ron Rigney, 52, of Springfield said he was excited by the historic election and hopes Pope Francis I is a good man who can help improve some of the church’s negative image, adding “no matter where he’s from as long as he can do good for the church.”
Rigney said he thought the first black pope would be elected.
“We have a black president, I thought we were going to get a black pope. I was looking for something like that happening to shake things up. Because of everything that has happened, everybody’s eye is on the church whether they are Catholic or not,” he said.
Some Catholics noted Pope Francis I began his tenure with a sign of humility when he greeted thousands who crowded on St. Peter’s Square.
The Rev. Greg Konerman of St. Mary’s Church in Urbana appreciated Pope Francis I asked the crowd to pray for him during his acceptance speech. “I thought that was just a very humble, beautiful gesture,” he said.
It’s not clear Pope Francis I’s personality will assist him in his new role, but Konerman said the new pope is known to be an excellent scholar. John Paul II was a gifted philosopher, while Pope Benedict XVI was known as a talented theologian.
The Rev. Edwin Gearhart, of St. Teresa Church in Springfield, said he wondered if Bergoglio’s age, 76, would factor against him, though he is confident the pope will represent the church well. “I was a little but surprised but pleased in the sense this is a very humble man,” he said.
LaDonna Glenn of Springfield said Pope Francis I will have a tough job to restore the church’s reputation dogged by the priests’ sex abuse scandal. She hopes he will hold priests and others within the church more accountable for their roles.
“He needs to make sure that anyone that has been involved, including Benedict are held accountable … This is a person who is supposed to be next to God. The man picked (today) needs to hold Benedict and all of them accountable. Everyone failed (those children.) The system failed (those children).,” she said.
Springfield resident James Pritchett said he hopes the selection of the new pope marks a new beginning for the church.
“I hope it means there will be less scandal in the church and it will get people behind the church again,” Pritchett said.
At Springfield Catholic Central, staff members also pointed to Bergoglio’s humility as a positive sign for the future of the Catholic Church.
“We’re excited that the cardinals chose a pope from Latin America who seems to have a strong concern for social justice and who is known for being a pastor of his people in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, whose name he chose,” said Darlene Tempelton, campus minister and religion department chairwoman.
Gina Helms, director of campus ministry at Badin High School in Hamilton, said there was great interest in the election, a hopeful moment for the church that many teachers played in their classrooms Wednesday.
Each religion class in grades at the Catholic high school has addressed the topic of the cardinals’ conclave and how the process works of selecting a new pope. Many students had conclave iPad apps and keep up with things by viewing the Vatican’s website.
“Two female students in the hallway were live streaming,” Helms said. “To get instant feedback on what’s going on in the church, it’s just a fantastic moment.”
Staff writers Matt Sanctis, Hannah Poturalski and Tiffany Latta contributed to this report.