White smoke told the world that a new pope had been chosen Wednesday and soon after more than a billion Roman Catholics were introduced to their new leader, 76-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit Cardinal from Argentina. Bergoglio will go by the name of Francis.
Catholics in Essex County rejoiced at the news after being without a pope for about two weeks. Bergoglio was elected by his fellow cardinals as the successor of 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned last month saying he was no longer able to fulfill his duties.
"This is an exciting moment for all people," said Seton Hall University's Father Pablo Gadenz.
Gadenz said the new pope's roots are significant for New Jersey Catholics, many of whom are immigrants. Gadenz, who was born Chile, and raised in New Jersey, shared those Italian roots. He noted that Pope Francis has the potential to "bring the Americas together."
World Youth Day, which is scheduled for 2013 in Brazil, is normally attended by the Pope, so Gadenz is optimistic that Pope Francis will journey to the Americas this year.
Gadenz said this is an exciting time to be at Seton Hall, since Pope Francis, a Jesuit, has a known commitment to education.
"For all Catholics, indeed for all Christians, the Pope is an important symbol," said Gadenz. "As Pope Francis said in his address, we are a fraternity. We have a new opportunity to reach out to one another."
Victor Campos, originally from Costa Rica, was pleased with the election as he watched on television. "It's the first American," he said. "And it's important that he is from a Spanish-speaking country."
Even non-Catholics seemed pleased with the choice. "I'm thrilled, he's the first from Latin America," said Jonathan Citron, who is Jewish and works in Maplewood. "I think it's a great thing. I don't know his politics, but I think it's time the papacy is represented by areas other than Europe."
Sanjeev, a Morristown resident and a Muslim who is married to a Catholic woman, agreed. "It's a great thing to have a South American representative; there are more Catholics in South America than in North America and parts of Europe. It's great."