Reaction to the election of Pope Francis I was rapid and joyful.
Bishop David A. Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh held a news conference Wednesday afternoon, where he opened with a prayer, as he noted the new pope did as one of his first actions.
The bishop noted that the resignation of a pope was unprecedented and now the choice of the new pope also is unprecedented in that he is the first to be to be named Francis and the first from the Americas.
"I believe we're beginning to see the direction the church is taking is unprecedented again," he said.
He believes the quality of the person was more important that geography in the selection.
"We can't deny the importance that he is from the Americas and from a part of the world where Catholicism is growing, but I think the primary piece was not to choose somebody based on geography but based on their qualities and what the needs of the church are."
The bishop had met some of the other talked-about candidates but has not met Pope Francis before. However, he noted his reputation for being pastoral, prayerful, warm and humble, including living modestly. He noted the new pope used a common Italian greeting in his remarks.
The bishop said the choice of the name Francis sends a message. "I think the message our Holy Father has already begun to let us know is he wants to be a shepherd to the people."
The bishop said, "To look at the choice of Francis, I think once again he speaks of simplicity, a life of boldness, a life, if you will of living the gospel of Jesus Christ in very profound but simple ways."
Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt said this afternoon that the election of Pope Francis represents the evolution of the church into an international figure, which began under Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis hails from the area of the world with the highest concentration of Catholics, Bishop Brandt said.
Pope Francis studied psychology and chemistry, has a degree in philosophy, wrote books on spirituality and meditation, and taught at colleges and seminary, Bishop Brandt said.
Bishop Brandt has never met Pope Francis, but hopes to when he travels to Rome in the fall.
Bishop Brandt said he feels the new Pope will be a strong proponent of the evangelization started by Pope Benedict XVI.
"I think he brings administrative, spiritual and intellectual gifts," he said.
By 2:15 this afternoon, the empty chair had been removed from the sanctuary of St. Mary of Mercy Roman Catholic Church, Downtown.
Representing the chair of St. Peter, it was placed there March 1. The papal flag, which adorns the area, lightly touched the chair as a promise that, soon, a new leader would be elected in Rome.
Bells rang shortly after 2 p.m. in response to a sign of white smoke at the Vatican in Rome, at the request of Bishop Zubik.
"All the parishes had received a letter, a memo from Bishop Zubik stating that when the news comes that the pope is elected, he would like the bells to ring for five minutes," said Lois Elder of Churchill, a lay minister and director of television ministry at St. Mary.
Ms. Elder said the symbolic chair was removed around the same time.
"This is an exciting time for the Roman Catholic Church... and throughout the world for the universal church," she said.
Mid-afternoon is a quiet time at the church, so there were just a few people at St. Mary of Mercy when the bells began to ring.
"But I know I had goosebumps," she said. "There was a feeling of exciting and I'm sure they had to have that, too."
Bells rang again around 3:15 p.m. with the announcement of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election. But in that brief period, it was fun to speculate that perhaps the new pope might have local ties.
"Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Dan DiNardo of the Galveston-Houston diocese, Cardinal Sean O'Malley... we've always said we are a hotbed here in Pittsburgh for bishops and cardinals."
The prospect of Cardinal Wuerl as the new pope was particularly exciting, said Ms. Elder, a former writer/producer for KDKA who produced his television program for 16 years.
Whatever the outcome, she said she was confident that guidance from above would lead to the best choice.
"In all these years, the Holy Trinity has not steered us wrong."
As the first pope from the Western Hemisphere went to the balcony of St. Peter's basilica and took the name of the world's most beloved saint, Michael Conway knew more about that name than about the Argentinian Jesuit, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was now Pope Francis.
"A Jesuit taking a Franciscan name. That's something," he said.
In Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio, 76, was known for taking the bus to work like common people, and for having exchanged his bishop's mansion for a humble apartment.
Throughout the worldwide church St. Francis of Assisi stands for simplicity, love, humility and preaching the gospel.
"Christ told Francis to 'Rebuild my church,'" said Mr. Conway, a seminarian for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, who is studying in Rome. During a time when many people had lost faith in a church whose clergy and hierarchy seemed out of touch with the common people, Francis preached the gospel far and wide, in a compelling, entertaining way.
"The famous quote from Francis is "Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words,'" Mr. Conway said.
He believes that taking the name means that "In a world that is getting as secular as ours is, you need someone who's not afraid to bring the truth."
Msgr. John Kozar, a Carrick native and Diocese of Pittsburgh priest who has been on loan to missionary organizations for about 12 years, said he briefly met the future pope during a 1996 mission congress in Argentina.
He said the pope combines pastoral and management expertise and set a humble example by taking public transportation and living sparingly in Buenos Aires. He said he also was impressed by the pope's bow and simple greeting to the crowd in St. Peter's Square and by his selection of the name Francis.
"There is a freshness to it. There is a newness to it. Maybe this is a sign of what his pontificate will be," said Msgr. Kozar, who is executive director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which was founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926 to provide humanitarian assistance to Eastern Catholic churches.
Msgr. Kozar said his work will bring into contact with the new pope, perhaps as early as June. He said the selection of a Latin American pope reflects how important that part of the world is to the church.
"It's already important, and it continues to grow," he said.
Father Terence Henry, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, said with the former cardinal's working class background, "I really think the hallmark of this pope's papacy is going to be outreach to the poor and challenging the church not to leave its little ones behind."
As the leader of a Franciscan school, Father Henry also said "I'm very happy the new pope chose the name Francis."
Pope Francis is a Jesuit. While he could have taken his name from St. Francis of Assisi, it may also be in honor of St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuits' co-founder.
Stephen Miletic, former dean of the faculty at Franciscan University, said the stories of Cardinal Bergoglio passing on the trappings of his position, and taking the bus and cooking his own meals, made him an especially interesting choice. "He resisted that. He has interior strength," Mr. Miletic said.
At the same time he resisted liberalizing elements among fellow Jesuits. "That shows the independent streak inside him. That's perfect for being pope," Mr. Miletic said.