Americans — Catholics and non-Catholic — expressed surprise and mostly satisfaction as the news broke that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been selected the next pope of the global church, the first pontiff from the New World.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia called Pope Francis a "wonderful" choice from the "new heartland of the global church," while Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York predicted to reporters in Rome on Wednesday that the new pope would provide a "booster shot for the church in the Americas."
Ann Hochman, who was picking up her daughter Jane from day care at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, said she was very excited to have a Latin American pope.
"He seems fantastic, he seems very warm," she told The Associated Press. "To have someone from our side of the world is pretty exciting."
Religious and political groups around the country and the world have begun to give their well-wishes to Francis, though many mixed their congratulations with the laying down of some markers.
Judie Brown, president and co-founder of the American Life League, said Catholics "need to pray for our new Holy Father, do penance and make sacrifices for him and do all we can to intercede, asking our Lord in our prayers that this new pope will indeed rebuild,"
Ms. Brown also said the new pope needs to take a firm stance "on questions of abortion, contraception, homosexuality or euthanasia."
The Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation's gay rights groups, offered its own congratulations to Francis, but added that "American lay Catholics" support gay rights and Francis "should follow the virtuous lead of his flock."
The Buenos Aires-born prelate has been a firm voice for the Catholic Church's traditional views on homosexuality in the past, joining the opposition when the Argentine government legalized gay marriage in 2010. The first Jesuit elected pope, Francis has also pushed back against the teachings of more liberal members of his own order.
"We welcome Pope Francis" and "look forward to hearing about his priorities in the coming days," said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. But as Cardinal Bergoglio, "He was outspoken against the recent liberalization of Argentine laws on abortion, stating flatly that 'abortion is never a solution.'"
Human rights group are also calling on the pope to address sexual abuse within the church, one of many management and image challenges confronting the church and its new leader.
"Transparency is the only moral option," said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. "Without a full confession, the church cannot hope to continue its important work unclouded by the sins of its past."
U.S. Catholics focused on the church's social ministry said they were encouraged by reports of the Argentine prelate's work with the poor and with AIDS sufferers in his homeland.
"He cares about the people who are poor, the people who have so many problems in their lives, and to me that is extraordinary," said the Rev. Carl F. Dianda, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in the District. He sees Francis as a much less political choice than many of the men who have held the office.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that clashed with now-retired Pope Benedict XVI in recent years over the mission and role of women in the church, said they trust Francis' many gifts will continue to support the universal church, especially the poor.
He also has a reputation of outreach to other faith groups as well. Besides his close friendships with non-Catholics, he has also supported the Jewish community in Argentina, Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee said in a statement.
"We look forward to continued close collaboration with the Catholic Church under his leadership," Mr. Rosen said.
Said Father Dianda: "My hope is that he brings openness. I will be interested in seeing people's reaction on Sunday."
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