White smoke billowed from the chimney of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday evening in Vatican City, signaling the selection of a new pope.
When the news reached Los Angeles at noon, students had diverse reactions to the election of 76-year-old Argentinian Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, the first modern pope from Latin America, who cardinals chose to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned Feb. 28.
“I’m really happy with their decision because I think it’s time that not a white, old, European man controlled the church. It’s kind of moving in a new direction, so it will be nice to get some diversity in our leadership,” said Moriah Mulroe, a freshman majoring in biochemistry and practicing Catholicism.
Many Latino students at USC agreed with Mulroe and were enthusiastic about the fact that Bergoglio hails from Argentina. Edwin Francisco Juárez Rosales, a Salvadorian doctoral student in the electrical engineering program and the religious education chair at the USC Caruso Catholic Center, expressed optimism at the papal selection.
“I’m really excited and truly happy … to have a Latin-American pope for the simple reason that Latin America represents the largest percentage of Catholics, including myself,” Rosales said.
Heidi Mayen, a student worker at El Centro Chicano, was also pleasantly surprised by the news.
“I would have thought he would have been a European pope,” Mayen said.
Bergoglio chose the name “Francis” for his papacy, making him the first Pope Francis in the church’s history. The name Francis comes from St. Francis of Assisi, whose prayer promotes love and helping others. The name is associated with inspirational preaching and evangelization.
Bergoglio is also unique in that he is the first Jesuit pope, something several students were excited about. The Jesuits are an order of Catholic priests founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century and are known for their work in education.
Some students responded positively to the new pope’s Jesuit affiliation.
“I had a great time in Jesuit [high] school and I thought that their ideas about Catholicism and life in general are really good for society,” said Bryan Curtis, a freshman majoring in civil engineering.
Rosales said he hopes the new pope’s Jesuit background will bring a new type of leadership to the Vatican.
“Part of [Jesuitic] spirituality is to bring God to the boundaries … but now they are taking the meaning of that to mean bringing Catholicism to areas it’s not present, for instance sciences,” said Rosales, who believes this Jesuit mentality will help the papacy.
Though some believe the selection of Bergoglio was an effort to move the church forward, others believe it will accomplish the opposite. Camille Saucier, a freshman majoring in psychology, was among the students hoping for a more progressive pope. Bergoglio is noted for his criticisms of socially progressive trends and staunch conservatism, according to the Washington Post.
“It’s nice to see that they’re having some ethnic diversity, but I mean, seriously, you really have to go with the most conservative guy?” Saucier said.
Jorge Molina, a freshman majoring in writing for screen and television, said the newly selected pope’s influence will be even more widespread because of his ethnic background.
“Being the first Latin-American pope, I think that it’s going to have [more cultural] representation in the church,” Molina said. “Culturally, coming from another background that’s not European, he can bring another perspective of the world.”
Bergoglio will officially be installed as pope at a Mass on Tuesday, according to a statement from the Vatican.