Reactions by faculty and students at Catholic universities to the election of Pope Francis has largely been that of joy and tears of emotion. As the world gets to know the first Latin American Pope, a picture is emerging of a simple, humble, scholarly man with a heart for the poor.
“After the resignation of Pope Benedict, there was an empty feeling in St. Peter’s – we were literally without a ‘papa,’ a shepherd, and one could just feel that,” said Maria Cintorino, a junior from Stony Brook, NY studying theology at Christendom College and currently in Rome. “Last night, seeing the white smoke filled me with such joy! A little bit after seven, white smoke came bellowing out of the chimney, the bells started ringing, and everyone in the square erupted with shouts! We were so thrilled and kept on shouting ‘We have a pope!”
“When Papa Francesco first came out on the balcony, was amazing,” Cintorino continued. “I cannot even begin to describe it. He seems like such a loving, humble and gentle man! I cannot wait to learn more about him. When he asked us to bless him before he blessed us was another incredible experience – the whole square was absolutely quiet, thousands of people were gathered in the square and not even one sound could be heard throughout the piazza. It was the most incredible experience of my life.”
“White smoke was the last thing Iwas expecting. It was rainy and I just wanted to see the black smoke so I could go to my room to finish my homework,” said fellow Christendom student Matthew Speer, who is also studying in Rome.
“I can't describe how I felt when Isaw it flowing out of the Chimney. I realized that my legs were shaking. I was nervous, afraid but also excited! The crowd was electric.”
Of Pope Francis, Speer said, “He didn’t talk to us that long or give us a homily, but just watching him speak I had a feeling of peace. Right away he seemed to be a holy and humble man. He’s our pope!”
At Thomas Aquinas College, students rushed to the aptly named St. Ignatius of Loyola Hall, with the campus chapel bells ringing, to watch television coverage of the announcement. Filled to capacity, the room erupted with cheers as the announcement was made. A slideshow of the student’s reactions is available at the TAC website.
"The Thomas Aquinas College community rejoices at the election of Pope Francis, and we pledge our fidelity to the new Vicar of Christ and head of the Roman Catholic Church,” said Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean. “We join with our fellow Catholics around the world in offering prayers of thanksgiving for our new Holy Father and in asking God to pour forth His graces and blessings upon Pope Francis as he begins his pontificate.”
Students at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.) gathered on campus waving Vatican flags and joyfully shouting "Francis" in reaction to the news.
“The Catholic University of America is proud to congratulate Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on his election as Pope. The Holy See and the University, which was founded in 1887 by the U.S. Catholic bishops under a papal charter issued by Pope Leo XIII, share a unique relationship,” said John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America. “As the national University of the Catholic Church in the United States, we have been blessed to host two papal visits: one by Pope John Paul II in 1979 and one by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. We are excited to move forward under the leadership of Pope Francis and we pray that the Catholic Church will grow under his guidance in wisdom and Christ’s grace. And we hope to welcome him to our campus some day.”
Dr. Edward Mulholland, assistant professor of classical and modern languages at Benedictine College, shared how he saw hundreds of students at the College tear up at the announcement.
“The world press has spent weeks speaking of scandal and troubles in the Church,” wrote Dr. Mulholland. “I watched hundreds of college students tear up because they have a new Father in the Faith. We are not seeing the same reality.”
Mulholland wrote that he, and the students, were touched by Pope Francis’ witness of humility.
You saw it. His first act as pope, before blessing his people, was to pray for his predecessor and then to bow down before his flock and ask for their prayers. Even as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio lived in a small dwelling, not a palace, cooked for himself, and often took public transportation. He is a Latin American Jesuit with a huge heart for Social Justice, and yet distanced himself early on from currents of "Liberation Theology," which would have us practice the Gospel seen through a Marxist prism. Such a stance may have made him unpopular in his seminary days. It takes humility to buck trends and stick to the truth. It takes humility to recognize your own weakness and ask for prayers. It takes humility to live humbly as a prince of the Church.
The reaction by the Jesuit order to the news of the election of the first Jesuit Pope was one of intense joy.
“The response from the Jesuits is profound joy at the election of Pope Francis,” said Fr. Matthew Gamber, S.J., a theology teacher and senior counselor at Jesuit High School of Tampa. “The fact that he is a Jesuit brings even greater joy. We are ecstatic. He’s rock solid. We expect he’ll be a wonderful Pope.”
Glimpses and early interviews from Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio are emerging. Many have highlighted the Pope’s simplicity, humility, his rejection of past Curia postsin the Vatican, and his background as a scientist.
In an interview which Cardinal Bergoglio gave to the Italian magazine 30 Days, he pointed to the disciples and spoke of the importance of mission. Said Bergoglio:
…the final opening is to the mission. The announcing and the testimony of the disciples. To remain faithful we need to go outside. Remaining faithful one goes out. That it is the heart of the mission.
Staying, remaining faithful implies an outgoing. Precisely if one remains in the Lord one goes out of oneself. Paradoxically precisely because one remains, precisely if one is faithful one changes. One does not remain faithful, like the traditionalists or the fundamentalists, to the letter. Fidelity is always a change, a blossoming, a growth. The Lord brings about a change in those who are faithful to Him. That is Catholic doctrine. Saint Vincent of Lerins makes the comparison between the biologic development of the person, between the person who grows, and the Tradition which, in handing on the depositum fidei from one age to another, grows and consolidates with the passage of time.
Cardinal Bergoglio ends his interview by answering the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen in the Church?"
It is what De Lubac calls ‘spiritual worldliness’. It is the greatest danger for the Church, for us, who are in the Church. ‘It is worse’, says De Lubac, ‘more disastrous than the infamous leprosy that disfigured the dearly beloved Bride at the time of the libertine popes.’ Spiritual worldliness is putting oneself at the center. It is what Jesus saw going on among the Pharisees: ‘… You who glorify yourselves. Who give glory to yourselves, the ones to the others.’
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