SOUTH-WEST Catholic leaders hope Pope Francis will provide reform and a sense of renewal for the church.
Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio yesterday became the first Pope from the Americas in the history of the church, taking the papal name of Francis.
Francis, 76, is the first non-European pope in more than 1200 years.
Ballarat diocese bishop Paul Bird was surprised by the speed of the election.
“It’s a time of renewal,” he said. “The truth is we always need reform and renewal in the church.
“He seems to be warm, gentle and simple.”
Bishop Bird said he expected Pope Francis would build on the work done by Benedict to promote proper dealings with abuse victims.
He said there was no doubt the international spotlight would be on him and he would be expected to do more.
For Father Lawrence O’Toole, of Our Lady Help of Christians Church in east Warrnambool, the announcement meant a change of plans for Mass yesterday morning.
“We had intended to pray for a new pope, but instead we prayed for him,” he said. “It was announced so soon.”
Father O’Toole said it was hoped the Pope would provide church unity.
“He is a man who has great respect for humanity and the environment,” he said.
Father O’Toole said taking the name of Francis was symbolic of St Francis of Assisi, because of his dedication to the poor.
He said the announcement would be exciting for South Americans living in the south-west.
Born in Argentina, Warrnambool resident and Christian minister Sandro Schietroma said Argentinians would embrace the announcement.
“They will own it and love it,” he said.
“With the Pope now Argentinian they might be saying it’s God visiting the land.”