By Kim Walter
Local Catholics were thrilled with the election of Pope Francis on Wednesday afternoon, and they plan to celebrate for days to come.
Father Stanley Krempa of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Winchester said he sat in his office and watched the announcement on television, just like many around the world. He said the decision to choose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Argentina was surprising, but also made him happy.
The current pope wasn't widely talked about or discussed as a possible papal candidate, and Krempa admitted that he didn't know much about him. However, his first impression of the pope was a good one.
"I think it's a wonderful choice," he said Wednesday afternoon. "In one way, it shows continuity because I'm sure [Francis] will continue the initiatives of Benedict. But, the choice also shows that the church can turn new corners."
Francis is the first Jesuit and first Latin American to be elected pope. He is also the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years.
"About 50 percent of the Catholic population is from Latin America, so I think it's great," he said.
The pope's choice of name also helped Krempa form an opinion.
"I think it reflects the simplicity that is associated with St. Francis of Assisi," he said. "It was evident in his face, his demeanor that he had a strong connection with the people."
"There are so many things that divide people. Some core issues, and some superficial things, so it's nice to have someone who seems to want to bring people together," Krempa said.
Timothy O'Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, was present in St. Peter's Square during the announcement. He was in Rome providing voiceover coverage for Vatican TV and Radio, as well as appearing as a guest on EWTN's live programming from Rome.
From 4:30 p.m. until hours after the white smoke appeared, O'Donnell was a part of the large crowd that was there to celebrate the news. He said he stood next to a few people from Latin America, and could tell they were "touched."
"It was a very historic, great night for the church," he said. "The bells began ringing joyously, music played, the crowed chanted and cheered ... and [Francis] spoke so tenderly and beautifully."
He said the setting for the occasion, even through the rain and cold, was made perfect through lighting and carrying out the traditional ceremony.
"God bless the Romans, because they know what they're doing," he said, laughing.
O'Donnell said one of the most moving things during the night was how Pope Francis was greeted with "such great affection," even though many were surprised by the choice.
"I can't even explain how it felt when he asked all of us to join him in prayer, and the entire square went silent," he said.
O'Donnell shared in Krempa's feeling that the choice in name was on purpose.
"There is a real humility about this man ... from what I've heard he cooks for himself and takes public transportation, lives in a small apartment," O'Donnell said. "He spoke of brotherhood. He won the people over quickly and drew them to him."
O'Donnell said special masses will be held for the next few days at the college, and Krempa said it will be a topic of discussion and celebration in the Sacred Heart Academy.
"There was a bit of an emptiness with the former pope's resignation, but tonight the lights will be on," O'Donnell said. "We just rejoice; there's a man at the helm."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org