By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 14 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
When the bells of St. Joachim Catholic Church echoed across central Madera, California, well before noon Wednesday, some didn't know what to think. But others knew well the reason.
"The bells just kept ringing, ringing," said Mary Ann Hutcherson, manager of St. Marello Bookstore, "and I see (religious education coordinator) Diana (Saenz) and the ones from this office coming out..." She pointed, imitated an expression of confusion and continued with laughter, "Going, ‘What's going on?' And Zak's (Security One) even drove by like, ‘Why are the bells ringing at 11:30?'... The bells were the other giveaway that we had a pope, because they ring the bells (as if) we were in Rome."
For many Maderans, the first "giveaway" that a new Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis of Argentina, had been elected came from much newer technology than bells.
"My husband (John) came out at lunch, turned on CNN and just at that moment the white smoke was going up. He hollers, ‘There's a pope!' So I go flying to the television set where I am riveted until the pope comes out and just sat in tears, absolutely in tears," said Ellen Bryan, a volunteer at the bookstore. "It sort of gave me faith again in the church."
Her eyes grew wet as she explained. "I thought, ‘We cannot keep going this way.' I mean the image of the church in the world is so bad... among Catholics and non-Catholics... When he came out and he took the name Francis for St. Francis (of Assisi) the reformer, who was called by God to reform the church."
She said she was touched by the lifestyle of the man formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who lived in an apartment, cooked his own meals and frequently rode the bus to work instead of living in the archbishop's residence. He not only publicly preached social justice, but also routinely visited the slums surrounding Buenos Aires.
"The words of (St.) Francis are ‘evangelize always, use words if you have to,' and I thought you know we need that. It doesn't matter what you say. It's what you do that people will watch and learn from. So I just sat there with tears. I found myself praying along (with the new pope)... and just crying."
Her husband, for understandable reasons, felt a different emotion as he waited to find out who the next pope would be.
"He was mad... He kept going, ‘Get this show on the road,' because his lunch hour was almost over... It was funny," she said.
He barely caught a glimpse of the new pope before leaving for work. Yet not all Maderans had to choose between work and papal discovery. As Tom Spencer, principal of St. Joachim School, explained, "As soon as I heard there was white smoke (rising from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican), I announced it over the intercom and told teachers to try to tune in if they could find a way to do it so that the kids could know."
Sister Ana Rosa Gordo of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception teaches fifth grade at the school. After she and her class finished lunch and recess they watched live video of St. Peter's Square until the new pastor of the Catholic Church emerged.
When the principal announced "the pope had been elected it was just... like an explosion of joy, like we have our leader, our father," she said. "So I was excited to see who the pope was going to be... and I was in shock at first. It wasn't one of the cardinals that was on the list of possible popes. But when I saw him walking out (on) the balcony... so calm, his humility, I loved how he asked the people to pray for him, how he prayed for his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, and just that simplicity. It was very touching. I was very excited and thankful to God also."
Her students shared her enthusiasm. Most of them said it was the first time they'd seen a new pope being elected.
"I was so excited!" exclaimed Kai Wong when asked.
Classmate Daniel Barriga, a soccer fan, said the pope would "help us through this mission" in life and especially liked his birthplace "‘cause Barcelona plays for Argentina." Barriga expects the new pope will play soccer.
"He was nice and humble," said Autumn Pecarovich, "because of him asking for a blessing for himself" from all those watching. He bowed his head while others prayed for him.
"I think he'd be like a really great leader... even if you just believe in God and are another religion he can still lead you," Emily Stansbury said.
Not everyone outside the school shares such views however. Renee Roberts, a non-denominational Christian, commented on the election: "I don't care as long as he don't mess up." She had a vague impression the previous pope had done so but couldn't remember what he may have done.
Local Catholics encountered Wednesday naturally had a different response.
"I more or less got a lump in my throat thinking ‘we're back together.' I feel like the church is whole again. Not that it wasn't, but you've gotta have a pope," said Jim Bryan, a dental lab technician.
"When I first heard there's just an overwhelming sense of emotion that comes from knowing that now the decision's been made... I anticipated it being longer," Spencer said. "When it came quickly I found myself really confident that they must have reached that decision very prayerfully and made the decision with a real spirit of unity."
"I didn't know anything about him, but that doesn't surprise me... The ones that the media... or others promote... are not (usually) the ones the Holy Spirit has in mind," said Rev. Carlos Esquivel, pastor of St. Joachim Church and a member of the Oblates of St. Joseph. "What I hope is that he will continue some of what his predecessors have done before him, beginning with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in continuing the Year of Faith and the new evangelization."
Rev. Sergio Perez, OSJ, celebrated a public Mass of "Thanksgiving for the Election of a New Pope" in Spanish at St. Joachim Church on Wednesday night. The school too will celebrate it in a fashion. "As news emerges," St. Joachim School will "probably have a small assembly of some kind to introduce the kids to the pope," Spencer said.