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Catholics in Worcestershire welcome the election of Pope Francis
PEOPLE of the Catholic faith across Worcestershire have welcomed the election of the church's first South American pope.
Argentinian cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope last night, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium.
The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires chose the name Francis, associating himself with the humble 13th-century Italian preacher who lived a life of poverty, and is also the first pope from the Jesuit order of priests.
Father Paul Johnson, priest at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Warndon, said the election of Pope Francis signalled a new chapter for the Catholic church.
He said: “I think it’s fantastic news. It’s always horrible for the church when we don’t have a pope. I was particularly touched that [Pope Francis] led us first in prayer.
“Often at times we look at the Catholic church and we think she doesn’t change much and is behind the times, and people are critical of the church. Here, with the simple action of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic church has changed 2,000 years of history.
“I suspect many Catholics around the world would have been watching the chimney eagerly. The wonderful thing about the church embracing modern technology is people around the world found out straight away. The Papacy is no longer a distant thing.
“I think Pope Francis made the point he wanted to evangelise Rome and we should share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone. It’s not a private faith.”
Fr Brian McGinley, parish priest at St George’s Catholic Church in Sansome Place, said the election of Pope Francis had a particular resonance with his church.
He said: “It came as a surprise to many but the wonderful thing about [papal elections] is it’s none of the front runners or favourites, which is always very interesting. The Good Lord makes a surprise for us.
“Obviously we have a very charismatic figure and a very humble man. He’s a man of intellect and will give an interesting perspective on the way the church is governed.
“St George’s was run by the Jesuits until 1990. They founded St George’s 400 years ago and it began at Hindlip Hall.
“Symbolism is very important in the Catholic church and now everyone will weigh up every action and word of his.
“He came across last night as down to earth. He was relaxed and familiar with the crowd. The very fact his first thought was not to make some authoritative statement but to ask people to pray for him and his predecessor said something about him.
“He almost made a light hearted remark about going to the other side of the world to find him. He’s a very engaging and attractive figure.
“He’s still known by local people as Father George, which says something about his simplicity of life. It says something about him as a man.
“In a time where perhaps many of us feel the church needs to look humble, I think he’s definitely the right choice. The fact he was chosen so quickly, you have to see the Hand of God in that.”
Sean Devlin, headteacher at Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College in Timberdine Avenue, also welcomed the news.
He said: “I think he’s going to be an extremely good pope. Obviously, a lot of us didn’t know much about him before last night. He came across as someone quite humble and with a very kind manner.
“It’s good he offered prayers first for Pope Benedict then asked for prayers for himself, and blessed the people.
“He’s been a cardinal who has not had all the trappings that go with that office. He’s greatly loved in Buenos Aires. I think the very name he has picked might be a symbol, if we think of St Francis of Assisi - I wonder if that Pope Francis may see this very much as his role in renewing the church? We’ve had a lot of issues and things to face.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s good for the papacy to move out of Europe. It will bring a different perspective to Rome. There won’t be many changes in terms of issues like gay marriage and abortion, but what is going to change is a person who’s more akin with people who are poor, and generally people in need, as well as a church in need.
“All the staff here are very happy. I think what’s also good is it happened so quickly. To me, that would suggest this is a pope with an awful lot of support.”
Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity. Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends.
For years, he took public transport around the city, and cooked his own meals.