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Tampa Bay reacts to selection of Pope Francis

Bishop Robert Lynch blesses a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe for Anders and Janie Juarez after a Mass celebrating the election of Pope Francis Wednesday at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz.

AUSTIN ANTHONY | Times

Bishop Robert Lynch blesses a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe for Anders and Janie Juarez after a Mass celebrating the election of Pope Francis Wednesday at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz.

Father Matthew Gamber's senior theology classroom was packed.

It normally holds about 25 people. Wednesday afternoon, nearly 100 Jesuit High School students and teachers sat in desks and stood along the walls, watching the television.

Minutes earlier, white smoke puffed from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. They waited, anxiously, to hear the name.

Gamber — a papal scholar — was on the phone with a New York radio station, getting the signal from Rome 10 seconds earlier than the TV.

Through the phone, he heard it: "Jorge Bergoglio."

Gamber yelled the name. The students and teachers looked dumbfounded. Bergoglio is a Jesuit. None of the society's members, who typically choose positions of service over authority, has ever been named pope.

Then, the words came through the TV.

People screamed, cried and hugged. A few stood on the desks.

"Just bedlam," Gambler said. "All of the Jesuits are stunned right now. He's one of ours."

Bergoglio, of Argentina, is a pope of several firsts: first Jesuit, first from outside Europe in more than a millennium, first named Francis.

Ken Slattery, instructor in religious studies at the University of South Florida, thinks Bergoglio is just what the church needs as it deals with widespread turmoil.

"He's very interested in the social mission of the church," Slattery said. "It looks like he'll be a reformer, which I think is a good thing."

Though a surprising pick, most still consider him a fairly safe one. His quiet commitment to theology resembles that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

"No pope is going to be elected that rocks the boat," Bishop Robert Lynch, leader of the 450,000 Catholics in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "That was pure speculation."

Hours later, Lynch celebrated a mass of thanksgiving for the election. The service drew about 600 to St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz despite being scheduled on short notice.

"It is amazing what white smoke in Rome has produced in Lutz," Bishop Lynch said as he looked at the crowd.

Lynch told stories of the new pope's modest lifestyle in South America. Bergoglio eschewed the standard bishop's residence for a cheap apartment in a poor neighborhood, and rode the bus to work. He chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi, who left wealth for a monastic life of poverty.

Lynch said Catholics should expect three things from Pope Francis: simplicity, fidelity and compassion.

The selection meant different things to those in the congregation.

To Isabel Angulo, 39, of Odessa, it signified the importance of Spanish-speaking countries to the church's future. She hopes Francis makes headway in bringing religious freedom to Catholics in her home country — Cuba.

"We need a boost ... and this pope will definitely be a new light," Angulo said.

To Sharon Cunningham, 65, of Tampa, it highlighted the strength of the church's traditions.

"Any time we get a new pope, it's cause for curiosity and celebration," Cunningham said. "It reinforces the fact that the church will continue to go on."

Contact John Woodrow Cox at jcox@tampabay.com and Will Hobson at whobson@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay reacts to selection of Pope Francis 03/13/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 12:33am]
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