Raleigh, N.C. — Roman Catholics in the Triangle reacted with excitement and were filled with hope Wednesday afternoon upon receiving the news that Pope Francis, a Jesuit cardinal from Argentina, has been chosen to lead the church.
"It's very exciting," Bishop Michael Burbidge, of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, said Wednesday, hours after Jorge Bergoglia bowed and asked the crowd of thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray for him.
"That's what I'm asking the faithful (in my congregation): To respond generously to that request," Burbidge said. "Here's a humble servant who knows he needs our prayers, so let's give him that gift."
In taking the name Francis, the newly elected pope drew connections to the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi, who saw his calling as trying to rebuild the church in a time of turmoil.
That's no surprise for those familiar with Pope Francis' background.
"What we do know of him, he is a champion of the working-class person," said Father Dan Oshwald, of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Raleigh. "He has worked with the poor, and he is known to walk the streets of Buenos Aires in the evening and to talk to the people."
Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School, agrees.
"I thought that (the cardinals) would choose someone that would signal that the church is deeply concerned about the poor and that it is, indeed, the church of the poor," Hauerwas said. "That is the way to give the church direction away from the kinds of sexual scandals that have become so prominent."
For years, Pope Francis has been recognized a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed.
He often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and visited the slums in the capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
He has in the past accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
Hauerwas said he believes Bergoglia's decision to be called Francis is "a clear sign that he is going to direct the church's attention to issues of justice for the poor."
St. Francis is a much-beloved Italian saint who is identified with peace, poverty and a simple lifestyle. He was a rich young man from Assisi who renounced wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars in 1290.
The name choice could also foretell the pope's priorities in striving to bring a sense of serenity to the Catholic church and a unity among all Christians.
"Unity must be ours, not just in the Catholic church but as God's family," Burbidge said. "So that all people know that we are really brothers and sisters, so let's work together to be united and to reflect the peace that Christ so much wants in our world."