New Pope Francis I Elected: Catholics in Somerville React
The white smoke appeared on Wednesday, signaling that the conclave had chosen Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to be the new head of the Catholic Church. Locals in the Somerville community responded.
Update, March 18, 2013: Comments from Heather Curtis, an associate professor in the Department of Religion at Tufts University, have been added to this article.
Catholics in Somerville Wednesday were still digesting news that the conclave of cardinals at the Vatican had selected a new pope—Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who took the name Francis I. The initial reaction, however, seemed positive.
Sister Gertrude Mary, superior of Somerville's Little Sisters of the Poor, which cares for elderly low-income people, said, "We are very pleased and happy."
"I think we're just delighted, like everyone else," she said. "Everyone has been praying that the right person would be chosen."
Sister Mary said Little Sisters of the Poor would likely hold a special mass to celebrate the occasion with its residents, although with the news still fresh they hadn't completed those plans yet. "Whatever we do will be simple," she said.
On Facebook, a few Somerville Catholics also seemed pleased. "First Latin American pope. Glad he's a Jesuit and took a decent name. He has a job that is beyond difficult," wrote Janine White Duffy.
Jaime Rigazio Caputo was "a little disappointed" Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston wasn't chosen—he was rumored to be a contender—but said, "Listening to Pope Francis speak gave me immediate comfort and trust in him!"
In a brief phone call, Alderman At-Large Jack Connolly, a parishioner at St. Clement Church, which has a number of Somerville parishioners even though it's technically, and barely, in Medford, thought it was significant the cardinals chose a pope who wasn't part of the Curia—the group of cardinals who are insiders at the Vatican.
"The collection of cardinals said we're going to go with someone from outside and half a world away," he said, adding, "They sent a very specific message about taking things out of the hands of the inner sanctum."
Connolly also said, "I'm glad they got it over with quickly," noting Francis I will be able to oversee this year's Easter celebrations.
In regard to O'Malley not being selected, Connolly said he was a little disappointed "kind of in a way," because lots of people were hoping for the "local guy" to make it, but he wasn't surprised. "We keep him here," Connolly said of O'Malley. "I'm glad he's sticking around."
Sister Mary acknowledged some Bostonians might be a bit disappointed, but she wasn't. "The person God wanted to head the Church has been chosen," she said.
At Tufts University, in Somerville and Medford, Heather Curtis, an associate professor in the Department of Religion, said the election of Bergoglio as pope was significant for a few reasons.
"He represents the shift in the center of gravity of the Catholic Church (and indeed of Christianity more broadly) from Western Europe to the global south," she wrote in an email.
She also noted he's the first Jesuit pope and the first pope to be named after St. Francis of Assissi, adding, "Pope Francis's emphasis on addressing issues of poverty and justice reflect an important element of Catholic social teaching that he seems committed to underscoring and making central to the mission of the church."
If you're a Catholic—or even if you're not—what do you think?