FORT WAYNE – The Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, was caught a bit by surprise by Wednesday’s election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Calling the 76-year-old Argentine cardinal of Italian descent kind of a dark horse, Rhoades said the man now to be known as Pope Francis was mentioned early on, but then he kind of dropped off the radar.
I was surprised. I wasn’t prepared to talk about Bergoglio, he said after watching the announcement on television with about 25 diocesan staff members at the Archbishop Noll Center in Fort Wayne. His name circulated as a possibility, but it wasn’t one of the top names you hear.
But, Rhoades added, the selection of Bergoglio on the first full day of voting was a sign of confidence. Obviously, the cardinals saw in him something very special, he said.
Rhoades said the new pope, a Jesuit priest, is known for humility and simplicity, qualities in evidence during the new pontiff’s first appearance on a Vatican balcony just after 3 p.m.
He came out in a simple white cassock without the red (papal) cape, Rhoades said. And instead of stressing his role as the head of the universal church, Bergoglio referenced his role as bishop of Rome.
I thought it was interesting that’s what he focused on. It’s another kind of humble description of himself, Rhoades said.
The bishop said he has not met Bergoglio, who is not a member of the Vatican inner circle known as the Curia.
The new pontiff is known, however, as an administrator of a large diocese, a teacher with a keen theological mind and someone with great concern for the poor, Rhoades said.
And, as the first pope from the New World, Pope Francis will be warmly welcomed by the many Hispanic Catholics in the local diocese, the bishop predicted.
The selection of someone with non-European ties speaks volumes, sending a signal about the worldwide nature of the church, Rhoades said.
Local diocese staff members applauded when the name of the new pope was announced and bowed their heads when Pope Francis I led the throng of people gathered outside the Vatican in prayer. The group prayed again when Rhoades asked God to grant the new pope grace and wisdom.
Attendee Terry Broberg-Swangin of Fort Wayne, associate for liturgy in the diocese’s Office of Worship and a church cantor, said the day was tinged with historic import.
She said she excitedly called her husband, Calvin, who became Catholic last year, as soon as she heard the news of Habemus papam, which means We have a pope in Latin.
He said, Habemus papam? What is that? I don’t know that that means,’ she related. This is his first conclave.
But I was very excited, she added. I can’t imagine having such awesome responsibility.