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New Pope Stirs Excitement among the Faithful

Barrington M. Salmon | 3/20/2013, 10 a.m.

Emily Smith, a 21-year-old senior at the Catholic University of America in Northeast, said she watched television keeping a close eye on the conclave while in class.

"It was a really exciting day on campus," the New York native said of Francis' selection. "Everyone was buzzing. It was a wise choice. I hope he renews the world's sense of faith. I hope he is welcoming to everyone and is open-minded as we move forward."

The Rev. Phillip J. Brown, Rector of the Theological College at Catholic University said the cardinals' selection caught him off-guard.

"I was not familiar with Cardinal Bergoglio. He was not mentioned prominently. It was a surprise and a wonder. I had to find out more about him," he said. "I'm delighted to have an American chosen. It expressed the global nature of the church and embraced the family."

Brown, 61, noted that the pope as a Jesuit represents the intellectuals in the church.

"He's a very simple man who's lived his life for the poor and disadvantaged," said Brown, who hails from Bismarck, N.D. "The church has given us a humble man who has lived an impoverished existence. The spirit has given us the man we need. There has been a very enthusiastic reaction from the laity."

"I was picking up groceries at Whole Foods and someone came out of the blue and said 'Congrats,'" said Brown.

Brown said the pope's interest in ecumenicalism is a hopeful sign.

"It's a big deal because he's the first Jesuit. By that very fact it's a big deal," said Brown, during an interview on Friday, March 15. "The Jesuits have a long, powerful tradition in the church. It's not like he's any Jesuit."

"Where this is significant and with his choice is not with [the Jesuit's] intellectual tradition but it's terribly significant because of their commitment to social justice, catering to the poor and distributing resources in ways that are equitable and fair."

Brown joked about a conversation he had with a Jesuit visitor earlier last week.

"I told him he should be celebrating and he said 'if a Jesuit ever becomes pope, that means the end is near.'"

At St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Southeast, the pride with which congregants carried themselves was apparent. The fact that Bergoglio chose the name Francis was not lost on them either.

"We're thrilled. Anytime the See of St. Peter is vacant, it's very disconcerting," said Father Jim Boccabella. "Now that the pope is chosen, it's a powerful thing."

Boccabella said he is impressed with the pope's humility that he brings to his office, "and he may bring some new things to the church."

Willis C. Daniels, an ordained minister in the Catholic Church since 1995 and a co-celebrant with Boccabella, beamed.

"I'm happy, jubilant," he said. "I give thanks to God. I really believe this is the Holy Spirit's choice."

Marie Cunningham-Brown, a retired federal government employee, looked beatific.

"It's just exciting. The whole process is just so spiritual," said Cunningham-Brown, who has been a Catholic since age 12. "We truly believe in his infallibility and the leadership he shows. Despite some of the things we've seen such as wars and the slavery of people of color, I've found that because of the church's spirit and attitude, I've gained spiritual grounding and an excellent education."

"I'm hoping for great things. My bucket list was to see a black president and I hope to see a black pope."