March 14, 2013 03:34

Catholic church bells pealed long and joyously across Louisiana after Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Catholic church bells pealed long and joyously across New Orleans after Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis.

The election of a Latin American brought joy to Robert Stanley, a Chicago resident visiting New Orleans, and to the Rev. Kenneth Obiekwe, a native of Nigeria and pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in central Louisiana.

"I believe he will guide the church in the right paths, it will bring fresh air to the church," said Obiekwe, who has ministered to about 130 families in the rural Natchitoches Parish town of Cloutierville for about three years.

He said he had thought the next pope might be from Latin America, but was still surprised when it happened. "I think the church needs that at this time - somebody from a different zone," said Obiekwe, reached by phone from New Orleans, 200 miles away.

Stanley, a Catholic freshman at the University of Notre Dame, was enjoying lunch at a sidewalk cafe near a church when bells rang out. He liked the fact that Francis is from an area that has not had reports that church officials covered up sexual abuse by priests.

"I feel like the scandal and problems with the scandal are based in the U.S. and Europe, and this new pope has no ties to that," he said.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans said he believes Francis will help the church "to be a conscience to make sure that we include the poor and serve them in the name of Christ." As archbishop of Buenos Aries, he noted, Bergoglio often took buses, lived in a small apartment and showed strong concern for the poor and for issues of social justice.

Although he's 76, "he has a very youthful face and a very youthful personality that I think comes across in a very positive way," Aymond said.

Bishop Glen John Provost of Lake Charles said, "Pope Francis gives every indication of being a man of profound humility. He comes from a region of the world that is overwhelmingly Catholic and possesses great potential for the growth of the Faith."

Obiekwe said he believed the papal name signals a desire to follow in the footsteps of a man "known for revival in the church, his spirituality, the way he took an entire creation, nature itself.

"We need that kind of output to humanity," Obiekwe continued. "It ... sees the hand of God in everything. So it speaks to us of God present in our life."

Provost said in a statement, "There are two great saints named Francis. Saint Francis of Assisi had a vision in which God asked him to rebuild the Church. And Saint Francis Xavier, a Jesuit like Pope Francis, is the patron of missionary work. Both saints speak to the New Evangelization and the spiritual renewal of the Church."

Gov. Bobby Jindal learned of the election after a meeting. "I want to join folks from all over the world and offer my congratulations to the new Holy Father. We obviously offer our thoughts and prayers as he takes on this tremendous responsibility," said Jindal, who was raised a Hindu by Indian immigrant parents but converted to Catholicism as a teenager.

Not everyone was excited.

"It's ridiculous, this pomp and circumstance and smoke from the chimney. It's so archaic," said Jennifer Rogers, a New Orleans resident who said she attended Catholic school as a child in Baton Rouge but has taken to Eastern religions such as Hinduism, partly because of the church's bar against women as priests.

Gloria Pacheco, of Sabinas, Mexico, in New Orleans for her granddaughter's baptism, was delighted just to have a pope. His name hadn't yet reached the street where she and her daughter talked in downtown New Orleans, the bells of St. Patrick's Church resounding overhead.

"The Throne of St. Peter is not empty, and that feels good," Pacheco said. "I'm happy, and I feel like I can relax."


AP reporters Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.

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