Let the pundits, theologians and experts debate precisely what the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope means for the Catholic Church, the world and history.
For Catholics in Southern Nevada, the most important thing about Wednesday’s introduction to Pope Francis was this:
Habemus Papam. We have a pope.
Even if they didn’t know too much about the now-former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, valley Catholics’ most common emotion was the simple sense of relief that they once more have a spiritual leader.
After learning that a new pope had been elected, Rumondang Parapat of Aurora, Colo., and her family made room in their vacation itinerary to stop by Guardian Angel Cathedral on the Strip for a few photos.
“I think it’s really great that we could get a South American pope,” she said. “We are proud to be Catholics.”
Like others who attended 12:10 p.m. Mass there, Alicia Valdivia of Las Vegas entered the cathedral knowing that she had a new pope, but not knowing who it was.
“Oh, it’s wonderful,” Valdivia said later. “I just pray that he does a good job and that God is with him.
“He’s been picked by Jesus, so he’s got to be a rock. He has a hard life ahead of him. It’s a scary job, I would think.”
Also stopping by the cathedral were Helen Griego and her group of Lobos gear-wearing University of New Mexico basketball fans. They traveled from Albuquerque to Las Vegas to take in the Mountain West Conference basketball championships.
Griego said the choice of the cardinal from Argentina was “a surprise, I guess.”
But she and others in her group already had begun to hear about Pope Francis from news accounts.
Yvonne Ortega said, “They talked about how he really cares for the poor.”
Linda Thompson of San Diego, who was in Las Vegas with her husband, working a convention here, also stopped by for midday Mass. Thompson is a member of the United Methodist Church but said she has been attending Catholic services for about three years.
Thompson said she has followed the papal conclave and admitted that she thought the new pope would come from Italy.
But, she said, “you’ve really got to believe in the faith, that the Holy Spirit has driven this, and you can’t be jaded, like, ‘Is there politics behind it?’ ”
Len Urso, chairman of the department of theology and campus ministry at Bishop Gorman High School, said students there “expressed genuine interest” in both Wednesday’s events and the entire papal selection process.
As students began to learn about Pope Francis, “they were kind of blown away by the deep sense of humility he has lived within as an archbishop and as a cardinal,” Urso said.
The new pope’s “evangelical humility” and concern for the poor are, Urso said, qualities that students “hope he would take into his papacy as well.”
Las Vegas Bishop Joseph A. Pepe said Wednesday that, from his first introduction to the world as Pope Francis, the new pontiff conveyed the values of simplicity and humility.
Pope Francis’ humble demeanor Wednesday “gives you the sense of a person of warmth who really understands that important relationship he has with each one of us,” Pepe said.
By taking as his namesake St. Francis, the new pope also signals the value of outreach to the poor, Pepe said. That, he added, “was one of his most important initiatives in Buenos Aires, so he would be very aware of those who are less fortunate.”
Meanwhile, the selection of a pope from South America signals that cardinals recognize the significance of the South American church, Pepe said.
During the weeks after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Pepe said he sensed that local Catholics were looking, most of all, for a pope who would convey “a human element, a personal element” and who is “in touch with them.”
The new pope demonstrated such qualities during his first public appearance in “the way he came at the balcony and the way he presented himself,” Pepe said.
“He immediately identified himself with his people as the Bishop of Rome. So I think a lot of people very much wanted that aspect of the papacy.”
Contact reporter John Przybys at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0280.