As the world reacted to the introduction of the new leader of the Catholic Church on Wednesday, so did Catholic leaders in the metro-east.
Bishop of the Belleville Diocese Edward K. Braxton called the selection of Pope Francis a historic moment in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, from the first papal resignation in 600 years to the first election of a non-European pope during modern times.
"Now we have the first Pope from South America, where more than 40 percent of the world's Catholics currently live," Braxton said in a statement. "We have our first Jesuit Pontiff and the first to take the name Francis.
"The College of Cardinals has wisely disregarded public opinion polls and surveys concerning the kind of person various groups in the church and in the larger world think should sit in the Chair of St. Peter," he continued. "They have ignored suggestions that the next pontiff must be committed to changing the central message of the Gospel and the constant teachings of the church in order to win acceptance in a secular culture that is often shaped by philosophical and theological relativism. They have elected as Bishop of Rome a man known for his holiness and his desire to draw himself and others closer to Jesus Christ. May the Lord sustain him in Apostolic ministry."
Monsignor John Myler, the rector at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville, seemed hopeful about Pope Francis.
Myler told the story of St. Francis, who in 1204, heard the voice of the Lord telling him to "go and repair my house."
Francis trembled with fear at the sound of the Lord's voice and fell into a state of ecstasy, but when he returned to his senses he followed the command and "began zealously to repair the church," Myler said.
"Now, more than 800 years later, the Lord again speaks to Francis: 'Rebuild my Church,'" Myler continued. "Pope Francis has been chosen for the rebuilding of the Church in these times, during very difficult times.
"What hope the Lord gives us in this new Pope -- Francis," Myler said.
The Rev. Kenneth York, the pastor of St. Henry Catholic Church in Belleville, said he was pleasantly surprised about the selection of Francis.
"What I like about it is that he is obviously a humble man, very much in and among the people," he said. "Selecting the name Francis is most appropriate."
As the archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the new pope, chose to live in a simple apartment, cook for himself and ride the public bus instead of staying in the archbishop's palace and taking a chauffeured limousine.
Cheryl Sommer, a member of the pastoral staff at St. Clare Catholic Church in O'Fallon who represents that parish in the United Congregations of the Metro-East, also liked the pope's lifestyle.
"I was impressed with his simple lifestyle and I think that was the reason that he chose (the name) Francis," Sommer said.
About Pope Francis' age, Sommer said: "I don't think age has anything to do with it," she said. "I think the spirit was telling the cardinals that we need someone who is a model of personal holiness. Yeah, he's not going to be pope forever, but we need a person of holiness right now."
Myler agreed and said Francis "seems very robust for his age."
York also was a little surprised by the pope's age. "I thought they would look for someone who was not quite as old as Pope Benedict when he was elected and ... probably not as young as John Paul II when he was elected," he said. "I guess they feel he has the energy and the courage to address the issues."
Francis will be the first pope from Latin America, which Sommer said she thinks will give him a more global perspective.
Myler said the Vatican makes a concerted effort to think of our part of the world as "the Americas," not dividing into the north and south. "In many ways we are one in America, so we do have an American Pope," he said.
Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at email@example.com or 618-239-2460.