BANGOR, Maine — Alejandro Rave shed surprised, joyful tears Wednesday afternoon as he watched one of his countrymen, former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, step onto a St. Peter’s Basilica balcony to address his Church as Pope Francis.
Rave, an Argentine-born Catholic who has owned Thistle’s restaurant for the past 13 years, said he was very happy and “cried a little” as he watched something he never expected to see in his lifetime — a Latin American pontiff.
White smoke rose into a dark sky over the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel around 2:15 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, signaling new leadership for the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church.
The conclave of 115 cardinals elected Bergoglio, the first non-European leader of the Church in more than 1,000 years. Bergoglio also became the first pontiff to take the papal name Francis.
“I’m very proud for the election of the pope from Argentina,” Rave said, pointing out that both he and the pontiff were born in Buenos Aires and each had one Italian parent — Rave’s mother was Italian, as was Pope Francis’ father.
Rave said he planned to call family and friends in Buenos Aires on Wednesday night after getting out of work to hear about the reaction back home.
“Maybe they’re rejoicing,” he said.
Among his other firsts, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit leader of the Catholic Church. The Jesuits are an order known for their focus on scholarship and global outreach for the church.
At Cheverus High School, a 500-student Jesuit academy in Portland, students were leaving for the day when the pope was announced. Some stuck around after classes let out to watch the events on television, the Rev. William Campbell, school president, said Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m still kind of speechless over the whole thing,” Campbell said. “It just fills us with pride.”
Like many other Catholics, Campbell said he knew little about Bergoglio before Wednesday afternoon. He said his selection “symbolizes the universal nature of the Catholic Church.”
“I’m looking forward to talking to the kids about it tomorrow,” Campbell said. “It’s a moment of great joy, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”
The Rev. Seamus Griesbach, a Catholic priest assigned to St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which is made up of churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport, said he knew very little about Bergoglio before Wednesday.
Griesbach said the pontiff’s non-European background might give him worldwide perspective on the Church.
“He will need to take into account all Catholics from every part of the world and try to help all of them be able to encounter God,” he said.
“My hope is that this will be significant not only for the Catholic Church, but also for people throughout the world,” Griesbach added.
Chris Korzen, a Portland-based co-founder of Catholics United, a Catholic social justice group founded in 2004, said Wednesday that his group hopes Pope Francis’ focus will be social and economic justice. He said Catholics United believes the church has too long been focused on “personal morality” issues.
Korzen said he was surprised that the cardinals selected a 76-year-old pope in the wake of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, who cited old age and declining health as reasons for his departure.
A younger pope would have had more time at his post to enact long-term changes or hold fast to the Church’s direction for decades, Korzen said.
“I don’t think that this papacy is going to have a very transformative effect on this church,” Korzen said, adding that he hopes the pope makes strides toward transparency by “opening the doors of the Vatican.”
Bishop Richard J. Malone, apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Portland, expressed his gratitude to God upon the election of Pope Francis.
“As the first Holy Father from the Americas, I was impressed with Pope Francis’ humility and spontaneity as he began his first blessing to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square by asking everyone to pause in silent prayer, to pray for him and bless him,” Malone wrote in a statement. “That was a powerful moment.”