D.C. Area Catholics Welcome Pope Francis I

Bells rang at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in northeast D.C. and yellow and white bunting representative of the pope were hung there, at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill and at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in northwest D.C. in celebration of Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election to the papacy Wednesday afternoon.

Bishop Barry Knestout, auxiliary bishop of Washington, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for Pope Francis I – the first Latin American pope and the first Jesuit pope -- at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle at 5:30 p.m.

“Pope Francis is more than just the successor to Benedict XVI; he is the successor to all those who came before him in an unbroken line going all the way back to Peter,” read a statement from Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington and one of the 11 U.S. cardinals who participated in the conclave. “In Pope Francis, we recognize the successor to Peter and the visible sign of the unity of the Church spread throughout the whole world. He is the touchstone for the mission, message and tradition of the Church.”

The Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, told News4 that the pope's first actions after his election already made an impact on him.

“I was really touched by his pause to ask everyone in the square, actually everyone watching throughout the world, to pray for him and ask God to bless him before he gave us his blessing,” he said. “It was a beautiful, beautiful sign there, I think, of his humility and his awareness that only with God’s help can he accomplish what he needs to accomplish.”

That moment also caught National Shrine rector Monsignor Walter Rossi’s attention.

“And one of the first things he did was ask for the people pray for them and bent down and asked them all to be silent and offer a prayer – speaks volumes of this man’s deep spirituality and his reliance upon God,” he said.

Father Kevin O’Brien, a Jesuit priest and the chaplain at Georgetown University, said Pope Francis will be committed to social justice, the poor and social justice.

When the white smoke poured out of the chimney at the Vatican, many D.C. area Catholics went to church to wait, watch and pray. The bells at the National Shrine continued ringing for more than an hour until Pope Francis appeared. Inside, people gathered around TVs to watch the historic event.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori said the selection surprised him because the Argentinian cardinal's name wasn't mentioned as frequently this time as it was when Pope Benedict XVI was selected. When asked about the selection of the first pope from Latin America, Lori noted Pope John Paul II once referred to the Americas as the “Continent of Hope.” Lori added that he could only imagine the hope and joy welling up in the hearts of Hispanic Catholics.

“I am so glad that he’s here and that he’s been elected,” one woman told News4’s Pat Collins. “I don’t care who he is, I don’t care where he came from, I just feel so much more secure now that we have another pope.”

Another said: “It’s just a really wonderful, wonderful thing, and I’m really proud of the new pope."

The pope's personal history wasn't lost on many. “It’s time for the church and Latin America to give something to the world,” one man told Pat Collins.

As for the new pope's moniker: “I’m excited that his name’s Francis,” another man said. “I’m a Franciscan so that’s a pretty exciting moment to hear that name.”

At Annunciation Catholic School in Northwest D.C., students cheered the news.

“It’s once in a lifetime that you really get to see something that amazing,” sixth-grader Cole Arnold told News4’s Mark Segraves. “I can’t really explain it.”

“When we first got the news over the intercom that white smoke had been spotted, the kids started shouting and screaming in my classroom, and they’re saying this is so historic,” religion teacher Ann Marie Funk said. “They’re very aware that this is a very historical moment, and it’s so exciting to be a part of it.”

As Pope Francis delivered his first prayer as pontiff, the students prayed along.

“That’s an honor, praying with the pope,” Cole said.

“It’s neat for the kids, being in school and to teach about it and to see it live and in action,” Principal Dr. Gary Beckley said.

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