Al and Annie DeGroot were glued to EWTN Catholic TV all morning on Wednesday. Like millions of Catholics – as well as non-Catholics – worldwide, they were eager to find out who will be the next to succeed the chair of St. Peter, the first pope.
When the name of the new pontiff was revealed – Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, of Argentina who chose the papal name Pope Francis I – and made his first appearance before the thousands of faithful gathered at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, the DeGroots shared their rejoicing and jubilation with the whole world.
“You know, I think he’s an excellent choice. I know nothing about him, but as far as being from that part of the world (Argentina), I think it’s great. For one thing, for ages they were all Italian popes. The last two were European, and it’s a world church, not a European or American church. Now we have a pope from the other side of the world. And from that point of view, I think it’s great, because the church is universal. It’s a world church,” said Al DeGroot of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Manteca.
“I was in town this (Wednesday) morning when one said, ‘Hey! There’s white smoke already!’ So I hurried home and we watched it on EWTN (Catholic network) from there on,” said DeGroot who, along with his parents and more than a dozen siblings, came to America from Holland.
The white smoke he was referring to was the traditional signal coming out of the roof of the Sistine Chapel where the cardinals gathered in conclave that they have elected a successor to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI who resigned on Feb. 28. A black smoke means that none of the cardinals have received the required number of votes to be the officially elected pope, which was the case during the first day of voting on Tuesday.
DeGroot also noted a news source that referred to a diary entry reportedly made by an anonymous cardinal from the 2005 conclave which chose the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. “He was a runner-up to Pope Benedict, and that has nothing to do with anything. But it shows that he (Pope Francis I) was popular even then already.”
Father Dante Dammay, associate vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca, recalled that during the diocesan-wide service led by Bishop Stephen Blaire “when we prayed for the pope” at the cathedral in Stockton recently, he already “had a very strong feeling” about the cardinal from Argentina being the one selected by his spiritual peers to head the Catholic church all over the world.
“I’ve had that strong feeling even yesterday (Tuesday) when (the cardinals) were putting their hands on the Bible,” he said, referring to the part of the election process that is open to the public when each cardinal made the vow of secrecy just before the doors of the Sistine Chapel was closed for the secret voting.
“He is a prayerful man,” Father Dammay added, just like Pope Benedict XVI and St. Francis of Assisi whose name he chose for his papal title, Pope Francis I. It also says that he is a man of humility, he said.
“St. Francis came from a noble family but became poor” after he renounced his wealth, Father Dammay pointed out.
He has the privilege of having met both Pope Benedict and his predecessor Pope John Paul II. He met the Emeritus Pope during a papal audience at the Vatican last year. As for Blessed John Paul II, that opportunity took place when the then-newly elected pope from Poland traveled to the Philippines for the first time in 1981. Father Dammay, who was a seminarian at the time, was at the cathedral in Manila when John Paul visited the church.
Like DeGroot, Daniel Garcia who is a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Lathrop, said of the new pope from Argentina, “I don’t know much about him.” And, unlike the DeGroots, “he didn’t think much of (the papal conclave)” that was going on in Rome.
But as far as the Holy Father being the first in the history of the church to come from Argentina, “A pope is a pope no matter where he comes from. I’m hoping that he does a good job,” said Garcia who is originally from Mexico.
Amen to that, said Annie DeGroot who, like her husband, is a native of Holland. “He is the pope of the church over the whole world. The pope doesn’t always have to be Italian or German. Somebody else has to have a chance, too,” was the matter-of-fact comment by the Manteca mother and grandmother.
The reaction from the Diocese of Stockton headed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire about the election of a new head of the church in Rome was also one of rejoicing and a solemn pledge to the successor of St. Peter.
In a statement sent to the news media soon after the news from the Vatican was beamed all over the world, Bishop Blaire said, “The Diocese of Stockton rejoices with the election of the new Holy Father, Francis I, (Jorge Mario Bergoglio). As bishop of the Diocese of Stockton, I renew my pledge of fidelity to the successor of Peter in service of the Church.”