Pittsburgh Catholic churches ring bells in honor of new pope

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Lois Elder, director of television ministry at St. Mary of Mercy Catholic Church, Downtown, had finished with her duties televising of the noon Mass and was preparing to head for her home in Churchill when she got the news that a new pope had been elected.

It was just after 2 p.m. local time, and now Ms. Elder had one more duty.

Ring the bells.

"All parishes received a letter from Bishop [David] Zubik stating, among other things, that when the news comes that a pope is elected, he would like all the churches in the diocese to ring the bells for five minutes," she said. "And we're going to ring them again when they announce who it is."

That announcement -- proclaiming Argentine Jorge Bergoglio the first pope from the Americas -- came from Vatican City barely an hour later. The new head of the church is Pope Francis I.

"It's exciting," Ms. Elder said. "This is an exciting time for the Catholic Church and for Christians, I believe, throughout the world. I have goosebumps."

Bishop Zubik released a statement this afternoon after Cardinal Bergoglio was chosen.

"Our new Holy Father brings with him the experience of a dedicated pastor who has served the Church so well in his many years of ordained ministry. That experience -- and the rock-steady faith that has guided him -- will be his comfort and strength in the challenging days ahead.

"The Church does face many challenges, as it has faced so many challenges over 2,000 years. As we celebrate our new Holy Father, we remain the same people of hope as in the days of the Apostles, ever enthused to bring the Word of Jesus Christ to all, and ever assured by the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us in that task."

Ms. Elder said that while no one could predict how long the election of the new pope would take, the relatively quick process was not a surprise. The announcement of Pope Benedict XVI's retirement, she said, gave the cardinals time to think about the matter.

"They had time to gather and meet and open the conclave," Ms. Elder said. "You have to have some sort of thought about this."

She also said she was confident the cardinals made the best possible choice.

"I trust the judgment of the Holy Spirit. And that is who is descending upon these cardinals in their voting," Ms. Elder said. "In all these years, the Holy Trinity has not steered us wrong."

Besides the ringing of the bells, another step taken at St. Mary's involved the moving of an empty chair at the foot of the sanctuary. Since March 1 -- when Pope Benedict XVI stepped aside -- the empty chair had been next to the church's papal flag, symbolizing the vacant seat of St. Peter.

Ms. Elder also said there will be special Masses in days ahead.

"When the pope is installed in Rome, whenever that will be, Bishop Zubik will be the principal celebrant at a Mass here at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland," she said.

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Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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