Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
St, Thomas the Apostle Church staff including Annie Hartwig, a volunteer, Mary Cantrell and Estela Martinez, front office secretaries, Theresa Southwood, accounting manager, John Casey, administrative assistant, and Gus Scannapieco, parish administrator, hover around the computer awaiting the new pope to make his initial appearance.


Local Catholics Share Joy Of New Pope’s Election

By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published March 14, 2013

Catholics watched TVs and huddled around computers here to watch the smoke rise from the small chimney in darkened, rainy Vatican City.

The telltale white smoke was visible a little after 2 p.m. More than an hour later, people saw the first pope from Latin America, Pope Francis, walk on to the central porch of St. Peter’s Basilica and greet thousands of believers in the square below and around the globe.

“The beauty of the Catholic Church, it is universal. I am sure he will take care of us, like a good shepherd. It doesn’t matter where you come from,” said James Johnson, a native of Gambia, West, Africa, who lives in Marietta.

The new pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is also the first Jesuit to be elected pope.

Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama said the man’s humility, his request for people to pray for him, and his selected name will draw people close to him.

“He is a very simple man, … a pope of the people. It’s very clear from the way he approached them and asked them to pray for him. It’s a beautiful sign of closeness and humility,” said Bishop Zarama, speaking to members of the Atlanta media at the Chancery, in Smyrna, shortly after Pope Francis greeted the world from Rome.

Noting the election of an Argentinian, Bishop Zarama, a native of Colombia, joked, “Having a pope from Latin America, I can speak in Spanish now.”

Seeing the “simple, humble” pope bow and ask for prayers was moving, Bishop Zarama said.

“How humble for him to ask people to bless him. I hold my tears. It was very emotional, powerful.”

When asked what the historic election of a pope from Latin America means, Bishop Zarama said, “It’s too soon to say,” adding, “As a Latino, he will have a warm way to approach the people. This pope will give a great opportunity for us to feel close to him.”

In response to a question, Bishop Zarama said Catholics in every region of the world have their own priorities. “I hope that his priority is to listen to the people,” he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama, back to camera, takes questions from the Spanish media as the face of the new pope and his name, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, are splashed across the screen.

Now the faithful can join the new pope in his new role, said Bishop Zarama, and help him by spreading “the good news of the Gospel.”

This weekend, the nearly 1 million Catholics in North Georgia will celebrate Mass at approximately 100 parishes and missions. Nearly half the church in the Atlanta Archdiocese is Spanish-speaking, like the new pope. Many Catholics will pray with the pope’s name in the liturgy for the first time.

Johnson, 53, who has a small janitorial business, worships at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna. He is the choirmaster of the African choir. He works at night, so Wednesday afternoon he is usually asleep. But he woke up in time to see saw the new pope.

“I am so excited. It’s like I have been born again. The tradition of the Catholic Church is so rich, with the coming of the new pope, I am trembling,” he said.

“You have this yearning (for a new pope), the waiting. It’s like everything has been fulfilled. It is wonderful,” he said.

Father Eric Hill, pastor of Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch, was surprised at the announcement of the new pope.

“Total shock,” he said, describing his initial reaction. “I don’t think he was on anyone’s list.”

“I believe they were looking for the best person to lead the church,” he added, admitting that he did not know much about the man prior to the announcement. “I’m sure he will be a great leader.”

Father Hill was pleased to see the new pope ask for the prayers of the people before giving his first papal blessing, hinting at his humble nature.

“It was very beautiful,” he said, adding he was touched that Pope Francis also offered prayers for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Those prayers, along with a moment of silence shared by the entire St. Peter’s Square, were also powerful for Maria Cressler, executive director of the Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center in Atlanta.

“It says so much that he chose to offer that moment of silence,” she said. “But even more exciting is the nature of the man. The fact that he is someone who is so humble … is very exciting.”

Cressler said a regional meeting of Jesuits was taking place at the retreat center the day of the announcement and both diocesan and Jesuit priests sat together to watch the events unfold.

She said she looks forward to seeing how his Jesuit spirituality helps him guide the global Catholic Church. His care for the poor speaks volumes and Cressler hopes will continue to be an inspiration to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Father Edward Buvens, 78, a Jesuit retreat director, said there is a “certain pride” that a Jesuit is now the pope. “It was a memorable occasion for us. We’ll never forget it,” he said about the dozen priests gathered to watch the event.

He was pleased that a man who was exposed to the poverty of Latin America and chose to live a simple life, like riding in a trolley car, now is the pope.

Photo By Michael Alexander

Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama, back to camera, takes questions from the Spanish media as the face of the new pope and his name, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, are splashed across the screen. Photo By Michael Alexander

“That’s a mark of Christ’s compassion, for the poor and the suffering,” he said.

Atlanta priest Father Luke Ballman was among the throngs jammed into St. Peter’s Square.

The white smoke appeared and “everyone started cheering and clapping. The bells started ringing and that brought tears to my eyes. … They just started ringing and ringing and ringing, and all the bells of Rome joined in.”

“It was so celebratory, so full of joy. It was like the Italians had won the World Cup, it was better than that,” he said.

“Then Pope Francis came out and the crowd just erupted with applause and cheering,” he said. Yet when the pope asked the crowd to pray for him, everything became silent.

“What had been this raucous, rock concert sort of atmosphere went silent,” Father Ballman said.

The unusual name of Francis chosen by the pope caused Father Ballman to consider the reasons. “I began thinking right away, why did he choose the name Francis? He’s a Jesuit. When Francis received his vocation from the Lord, he got the message, ‘Francis, rebuild my church.’ And maybe that is the message he wants us to get from his pontificate. The other thing I thought of is Francis is the peacemaker.”

To receive the first pope from Latin America, “says a lot for the church in Latin America, for the church in the Archdiocese of Atlanta that has such a huge Hispanic population,” Father Ballman said.

Afterward, the students and staff at the North American College, where Father Ballman is director of apostolic formation, prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament for Pope Francis and sang the “Te Deum.”

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory served as an analyst for ABC News during the conclave.

During the broadcast, the archbishop spoke of Pope Francis asking the people in St. Peter’s Square and around the world to pray for him, and bowing in silent prayer, “I think at that moment he won the heart of all of the Romans, if not of all of the world. He is a holy man.”

Asked if he was surprised by the selection of the Buenos Aires cardinal as pontiff, he said, “Delightfully so. I am not Argentinian, but I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

He said the cardinal has a reputation of personal holiness, “that he is so committed to serving the poor, living simply, calling people to holiness in such a simple way that it is almost impossible to say ‘no.’”

His first words to the people in St. Peter’s Square communicated that he will speak “in a way that connects with people.”