If you didn’t happen to be in St. Peter’s Square, the next best place to be on Wednesday was perhaps at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary near Boynton Beach. And of all the jubilant seminarians and staff watching the announcement of the new Pope Francis on the big screen in the auditorium, Matias Hualpa wore the most incandescent smile.
Like Hualpa, 39, the new pope is Argentinian. So of all the firsts connected with this pope — first Jesuit, first Francis, first from the Western Hemisphere — it was a special first for Hualpa too.
When they heard the news of white smoke rising from the Vatican chimney, Hualpa and everyone else headed for the seminary’s auditorium, where a live television feed was displayed on a big screen.
Of course, he was just as stunned as any of the 1.2 billion Catholics to hear the name that was announced from the balcony of St. Peter’s. Even veteran Vatican watchers, who had speculated that an Italian or an African would be named pope, were caught flat-footed.
Other Latin-American prelates had been mentioned in the furor of speculation since Pope Benedict XVI announced a month ago that he was stepping down. But not a word about Bergoglio. To date, Bergoglio’s only claim to fame, according to Vatican leaks, was that he had come in second to Benedict in the 2005 vote. He was not even on the pundits’ radar this time.
“So when they announced ‘Jorge Bergoglio,’ I was so surprised,” said Hualpa, an engineer who found his vocation to the priesthood 12 years ago while working with young people in Miami.
Hualpa knew that Bergoglio, Cardinal of Buenos Aires, fought against secularism in Argentina, where the government once linked closely with Catholicism has in recent years “gone astray,” as Hualpa put it, and where the current administration was considered more in tune with Hugo Chavez, the late leftist leader of Venezuela, than it was with the Vatican.
“The fact that the cardinals chose him so quickly, especially in view of the requirement of two-thirds vote, is a sign of their unified consensus that he is the most appropriate choice for this ministry of service,” said Gerald Barbarito, bishop of the diocese of Palm Beach County. “He is a very loving, humble, spiritual and capable man with a special love for the poor and marginalized in keeping with the name of his patron, Saint Francis of Assisi.”
The symbolism of the name and the simple white garments worn by the new pope was not lost on seminarian Scott Adams, 45, of Palm City.
“I think it means we will be getting back to basics,” said Adams, a convert from the Presbyterian church before he entered the seminary. “We all need to spend more time here,” he said, indicating the quiet chapel where cool blue light filters through tall stained-glass windows. “We need to know who is waiting for us here.”
Justin Paskert, 31, student body president, recalled working as a plumber when Pope Benedict XVI was named in 2005. “I found it fascinating that he chose the name Benedict, for the founder of monasticism, the movement that preserved the libraries. And this pope chooses the name Francis.”
The new pope’s chosen name, Francis, evokes the gentle saint who is probably best known to non-Catholics.
But Paskert liked that there is an extra layer of meaning in the name Francis, which to Catholic scholars also suggests Francis Xavier, the Spanish missionary priest who baptized thousands of Japanese and Indian converts in the 16th Century. “It’s almost as if he’s saying we are rooting ourselves in our tradition,” he said.
This name choice, said Paskert, suggests that Pope Francis will bring the passion and energy of his namesake to the worldwide evangelization movement in the Catholic Church.
Back in the 16th century, Saint Francis Xavier was practicing evangelization at the grassroots level.
“I have not stopped since the day I arrived,” wrote Xavier to Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. “I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized. The older children would not let me say my (prayers) or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians.”
After the new pope asked Catholics to pray for him, Monsignor David Toups, who heads the seminary, led his 80 seminarians to the chapel, where they prayed for Pope Francis and sang the hymn “O God Beyond All Praising.”
Toups too expects Francis I to be a “simple missionary pope,” like Francis Xavier.
Then the seminarians turned to the statue of the Virgin Mary at the side of the chapel’s altar, asking her to help and guide the new pope in his new path.
Sending the seminarians back to their studies, Toups shouted, “Viva il Papa!” and they roared with delight.