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Originally published March 13, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Page modified March 14, 2013 at 12:07 PM

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Seattle Catholics toast Pope Francis

Seattle-area Catholics reacted with surprise to word that the new pope was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit from the Americas.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Habemus Papam: We have a pope


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It may take time before Seattle-area Catholics learn whether Pope Francis shares their views on specific issues. But many found things to like in the new pontiff Wednesday:

First pope from the Americas. First Jesuit. A man from a developing region and one who has chosen a humble lifestyle.

Their comments made it clear that the selection of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the 266th pope turned a page in church’s 2,000-year history.

“The whole school stopped for about an hour to watch this historic moment,” said Father William Heric, chaplain at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish.

Heric said Francis “is a great choice ... someone who has just a stellar record in service to the church with a special commitment to serve the poor.”

The selection of a pope from the developing world, some said, was an overdue acknowledgment of where the church’s growth has come in recent years.

“I was just frozen in place when I heard, I was so personally moved by the choice,” said Father Binh Ta, pastor of Sacred Heart parish on Lower Queen Anne.

“As a Vietnamese American, the fact that he is from Latin America speaks volumes to me,” Binh said. “It shows this is a global church and the pope is meant to serve everyone.’”

Much of the growth of the church in recent years, in the United States and the world, has been among Hispanic populations.

Isaac Govea, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said, “Even though there were favorites from Latin America, we were surprised. Gladly surprised.”

But Govea, a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Mexico, added: “I’m not sure what to expect ... I hope that he brings much-needed reform to the church.”

At a news conference in Seattle, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said he began praying for the new pope weeks ago and was watching television when puffs of white smoke went up at the Sistine Chapel, indicating the cardinals had made a choice.

The selection of Francis signals for Catholics “great joy and excitement,” Sartain said.

Sartain said he has no reason to think that his assignment by Pope Benedict to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will change under a new pope. The assignment came after a Vatican watchdog group accused U.S. nuns of holding radical positions on social issues.

Sister Cathy Beckley of the Sisters of the Holy Names was among the 500 who marched to St. James Cathedral last August to oppose the crackdown on nuns. But, on Wednesday, Beckley said the choice of the new pope gives her a sense of optimism.

“I think he will be a pope for the people. He has a concern for social justice,” she said. “His gestures of humility of bowing and asking us to pray for him. And his silence, his reverence.”

But gay and lesbian organizations in Seattle and across the country expressed disappointment with the selection, saying the new pope’s record reflects his support of the church’s unequal treatment of gays.

John Dunn, a parishioner at St. Patrick Catholic Church and a former president of the Seattle Education Association, said he doesn’t expect the new pope to “move at all in the teaching on homosexuality.”

But he said he has reason to hope, saying the new pope, as a Jesuit from the Americas, “might be able to stand up to the Italian curia and carry out some needed reforms.”

Francis is the first Jesuit appointed to the papacy, an aspect that drew plenty of attention at Jesuit-run Seattle University (SU).

“That was pretty cool to see,” said Sara Bernard-Hoverstad, a student campus minister. Though the new pope may be more conservative on social issues than she is, “I’m pretty hopeful about how in touch with the people he is,” she said.

She read that he had met with people who have AIDS and HIV and washed their feet, symbolizing affection and concern.

SU President Stephen Sundborg said he’s delighted by the choice but not primarily because Francis is a fellow Jesuit.

More important, Sundborg said, is that the new pope is from Latin America “and he lives a very simple lifestyle ... he has been identified with the people and their poverty.”

Shirley Adler, who runs a bookstore on the grounds of St. James Cathedral and was taught by Jesuits, said, “Jesuits are great scripture scholars.”

“They tend to be concerned with social-justice issues for all kinds of people,” she said. “They are inspiring and give hope.”

At the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Washington, students and ministry staff cheered the announcement and toasted with glasses of boxed wine.

The Rev. Lukasz Misko, unfamiliar with Cardinal Bergoglio, said he was hoping for “anybody who’s able to jazz up the world for the gospel” and communicate the Catholic faith in a new way.

Jack Broom: jbroom@seattletimes.com

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