The election of a pope from South America is recognition of where the Roman Catholic Church has strength, Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said on Wednesday.
Bergoglio, formerly the archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the first pope from this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Kurtz, speaking to reporters soon after Pope Francis’ election was announced, first with billowing white smoke from the Sistine Chapel.
“I think it’s a testimony of the reality of the universality of the church. That’s first and foremost. Secondly, it’s an awareness, isn’t it, that our Holy Father, is coming from an area in which there is a great expression of faith. Of course, the richness that we see within the United States of devotion and enthusiasm for the faith is often coming from families who are recently here.”
(Here’s NPR’s profile of the new pope, Who Is Pope Francis.)
Kurtz said that the Catholic Church doesn’t necessarily distinguish between North and South America, noting that a synod under Pope John Paul II focused on the church on both continents together. For Kurtz, this meant “one of our brothers was elected pope.”
The election comes as a new study shows that the number of Americans who view say their membership in the Catholic church is at a 40-year low.
Kurtz pointed to the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to reach and engage people, often referred to as the “new evangelization.”
The Louisville archbishop sees Francis as a pope who Catholics can rally around.
“The new evangelization is not calling for new programs, it’s calling for a new enthusiasm and a new order,
Kurtz said. “And I saw that, in a very gentle way with Pope Francis. I saw an enthusiasm—almost a way of setting people at ease in calling them to prayer.”
Kurtz said he hasn’t met the new pope, but knows enough to be happy with the Conclave’s decision. He said Bergoglio is a capable administrator and known as a “spiritual man and a simple man.”
To celebrate the new pope’s election, a “Mass of Thanksgiving” will be held at noon Thursday at the Cathedral of the Assumption.
Greogory Hillis, a professor of theology at Bellarmine University, said he’s also pleased that Bergoglio has become the new pope.
This week, Hillis and an archdiocese official discussed with WFPL issues facing the Roman Catholic Church in the Louisville area, such as attracting people to church.
Hillis said he has some concerns about Pope Francis’ age—76—and whether he’ll be able to carry out reforms in the Vatican.
But Hillis added: “I’m thrilled. This is a man who has, throughout his life, exemplified humility and love, and he demonstrated that humility in his decision to be named “Francis” and in his humble request for prayer on the balcony. He has shown a profound love for the poor and the marginalized throughout his life.”