The poverty and simplicity of newly elected Argentinian Pope Francis was the first thing that struck the Rev. Paul D. Williams Jr., of the 10,000-member St. Joseph's Catholic Church of Dalton, Ga.
"He lived in an apartment rather than a palace, rode public transportation and cooked for himself," he said of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires who was chosen the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday in Vatican City. "He was known as the people's cardinal."
He is the first Jesuit pope, the first pope to be elected from the Americas and will be the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years.
Monsignor George Schmidt, of Sts. Peter & Paul Basilica, the dean of area Catholic priests, said the election itself stirred the church faithful.
"We human beings have excitement about new things, about people in new places," he said.
Schmidt said the election of a Latin American pope indicates the church is aware of its worldwide influence.
"What it tells me," he said, "is the church is not confined to Europe. It designates that there's a lot of people [who are Catholic in other countries]. And the Bishop of Rome -- he's going to have to be concerned about all of the people."
Williams said the election is particularly gratifying to his members, 90 percent of whom are Latinos.
His poverty and simplicity, he said of Francis, "signify his concern for the poor. And he's spoken out for the developing poor. He identifies with them. So I think we'll see him continue that ministry."
Chattanoogan Varinia Madonado-Fuller, a Catholic resident of Red Bank and native of Mexico, said she will be excited to see in what direction Francis takes the church.
"It's a time of change," she said. "I knew it was not going to be one from the U.S.," she said, but added, "It's time they moved away from a European-centric pope."
Schmidt said he was delighted Bergoglio chose the name Francis and looked forward to learning why -- if it's revealed -- he did so.
"St. Francis [of Assisi] is one of the saints that I have a great favor for," he said.
Williams said he was encouraged the pope took the name of the Middle Ages priest who claimed to have heard the voice of God telling him to rebuild his church.
"My sense is that Pope Francis will strengthen and rebuild the church in the modern world," he said. "I believe he will maintain the course on the church's teachings in marriage, life and sexuality. But I believe he will have the greatest concern over the most marginalized amongst us."
Chattanooga Catholic Linda Orth said she looks forward to the future.
"Change is always exciting," she said. "Hopefully, he will generate some excitement as most people do coming into a position. Hopefully, he will bring the church back together ... and bring the young people back into the church."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...