Cincinnati-area Catholics, church leaders applaud election of Pope Francis I

Two local priests in Rome witness celebration

CINCINNATI - While Tri-State Catholics and church leaders watched the celebration of a new pope on TV Wednesday, two local priests had floor seats for the big event.

Rev. Dan Vogelpohl, from Blessed Sacrament Church in Fort Mitchell, and Rev. Ryan Ruiz, a Cincinnati priest studying in Rome, witnessed the celebration in St. Peter's Square and spoke with 9 On Your Side by phone.

Vogelpohl said the experience was overwhelming.

"It was shortly after 7 p.m. and all of a sudden the smoke appeared and at first you couldn't tell what color it was until it really got going, before we could tell it was white smoke, and the crowd just cheered," Vogelpohl said.

See photos from St. Peter's Square at

"It was deafening and, as they cheered, the crowd sort of surged up toward St. Peter's [Square] because that's where the new pope would eventually make his appearance."

Vogelpohl said there was great cheering when it was announced that the new pope had taken the name of Francis.

"There's never been a Pope Francis to my knowledge and he's probably the most beloved saint here in Italy. That was really exciting for the Italians in the crowd," he said. "We then had to wait for the pope himself to make an appearance and the crowd began a rhythmic cheering of ‘Francesco, Francesco.' You almost felt like you were at a sporting event. It was very respectful."

Vogelpohl said the experience made him feel a strong connection with his faith and his new pope.

Ruiz said he was standing by an Argentinian classmate when the newly-elected pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, walked onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. He said shock and joy radiated from his classmate's face.

Ruiz said his classmate referred to Pope Francis as a man of humility and simplicity, something that came through when the pope spoke.

"It certainly was a tremendous experience, just being in the presence of so many people," Ruiz said. "There were lots of people there, lots of anticipation. Pope Francis really captured the crowd's heart with his humility, sincerity, and just really put the church out there at its best."

Reaction From Home

Back in the Tri-State, members of the area's Latin American community were elated to see the first Latin American pope, a local pastor said.

Rev. Louis Gasparini, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, says he expects the predominantly Hispanic congregation at St. Charles Chapel in Carthage will be overjoyed when they come to Mass.

"The church in this continent, including the United States, it's a different type of church. It's a church that is used for internationality," Gasparini said. "We have all kinds of cultures and languages and so the flavor is a community. It's an international, multi-cultural community, which a church is meant to be."

At St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, Meghan Berneking told 9 On Your Side reporter Bryce Anslinger she liked what she had seen and heard of the new pope.

"Obviously it's nice to have someone from the Western Hemisphere, and I think he seemed very humble and like someone who is going to take a good leadership role, but in a very humble way," Berneking said.

There are more than 560,000 Catholics in the Tri-State. That includes more than 479,000 baptized Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which encompasses 214 parishes in 19 counties, and more than 92,000 baptized Catholics in the Diocese of Covington which encompasses 47 parishes in 14 counties.

9 On Your Side reporter Amy Wadas visited St. Francis DeSales Church, where the bells were ringing in excitement.

"This is obviously an historic event for me," said Brother Mike Murphy. "This is the second time that I remember a pope being elected, so it's really exciting."

Murphy said he wants a pope who is strong and has the ability to draw more people to the church. Sydney Prochazka said she hopes the new pope will help people who are suffering.

"I'm looking for a pope who is sensitive to the needs of the people and is able to respond to that  - not only through doctrine and laws and rules and regulations - but be responsive to people who are suffering the most," Prochazka said.

Ruiz said the new pope will be just what Murphy and Prochaka are looking for - a champion of the poor and a pastor to all.

"His choice of name is very telling. Pope Francis is a Jesuit. It evokes that idea of bringing the gospel to all parts of the world. It also evokes St. Francis of Assisi," Ruiz said.

Dennis M. Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati, issued this statement:

"We have a Pope! With Catholics and all people of good will I greet with joy the news that the Chair of Peter is no longer vacant. Inspired by the Holy Spirit and supported by the prayers of the faithful, the cardinal electors have chosen the right man to lead the church as Chief Shepherd at this point in history. Like St. Peter and all of his successors, the new Holy Father faces great challenges but

also great opportunities to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). We pray for the new Pope, that God will continue to grant him wisdom, courage, and strength."

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati will celebrate with Mass at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, downtown.

Schnurr said he has never met the new pope, but he said the fact that he is from Argentina shows that the cardinals paid attention to the large number of Catholics in South America.

"I rejoice with Hispanic communities in this archdiocese and in this country," Schnurr said. "I'm sure that they're elated with the election of one of their own."

Roger Foys, Bishop of Covington, issued this statement:

"Once again the Holy Spirit has answered the prayers of the Church and selected for us a new Holy Father in the person of Pope Francis. We rejoice and pledge our prayers for our new Holy Father and pray that he will have many fruitful years in shepherding the Church entrusted to his care. We will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving at our Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption on Thursday evening March 21 at 7:00 p.m. and invite all the faithful to join in thanking God for this precious gift. We pray that God may bestow every blessing on His Holiness Pope Francis."

Michael J. Graham, S.J. President of Xavier University, issued this statement:

"When I heard the news that a Jesuit brother of mine would be the next Pope I was completely stunned. As were many people, it seems, from whom I began to hear very quickly! But that surprise yielded quickly to a profound sense of gratitude. That the Holy Spirit should choose a man from the tradition of Ignatius Loyola to lead the Church, must be a deep consolation for anyone and everyone associated with any Jesuit ministry throughout the world. That Pope Francis is a Latin American Jesuit, I have no doubt that he will bring a particular care and concern for the poor and marginalized to his Pontificate, for that sensibility has been an overwhelming gift of Latin American Jesuits worldwide. "

Students at Covington Catholic High School stayed after class to watch the announcement on TV. Some said they hoped the new pope could make the church more relevant to their generation.

"The younger generation is not as devout in their faith as the older generation," senior Kyle Massie said.

At the Atheneum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary's Seminary of the West, where young men train for the priesthood,  a local church scholar said the decline in Catholicism - even in Latin America - probably weighed in the decision to select a pastor who might be able to bring people back to the church.

"You get the impression that he's the guy next door and I think that will help immensely to pick up the morale of these churches that are slipping," Rev. Ted Ross, S.J., told 9 On Your Side reporter Jay Warren.

Although Latin America counts 40 percent of the world's Catholics, "We're losing ground there," Ross said. That goes for former strongholds like Ireland and Poland as well.

Ross said the new pope may also help the church as it deals with a priest shortage. Ross said the laity will be asked to do more and Francis may be able to invigorate them.

"If this man catches on to the ordinary Catholic, that's going to pick up enormously and as a result everybody will be missionizing the church, not just the missionaries," Ross said.

Ruiz said that while many people will be debating the new pope's political views and actions, they need to take some perspective on what the role of the pope is.

"I think a lot of the people are confused about what the role of the pope in the church is. There's been a lot of talk by people in media about the role of the pope in society. The role of the church is not to make itself like the world, but to present the gospel to the world, hopefully in a way that is inviting. The role of the pope is to be the guardian of the faith," Ruiz said.

The American Jewish Committee issued a statement Thursday as well about the election of Pope Francis:

"We extend our best wishes to our Catholic neighbors and friends as they embrace this new leader of their church. We speak with anticipation and hope that the new pope will continue the work of his predecessors in engaging positively with Jewish communities around the world."

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