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Expect changes, Western Pennsylvania bishops say

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 11:40 p.m.

Before he blessed the crowd Wednesday as the new leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis asked the thousands assembled in St. Peter's Square to pray for him.

“What a beautiful and humble moment that was. It speaks of simplicity and a life of humility,” Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said during a news conference at St. Paul's Seminary in Crafton less than an hour after Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Argentina became pope.

Church leaders in Western Pennsylvania said that Bergoglio's election begins a new era for the church. He is the first pope to use the name Francis, and the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years.

“A new page is turned ... and it's a very, very exciting time as we look into the future,” said Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, speaking to reporters in Greensburg.

Bergoglio is a Jesuit priest, yet his choice of “Francis” as his papal name — if a reference to St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order — could hint at an openness to or acknowledgement of the need for reform, as St. Francis and Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola were reformers of the Church in their time, said the Rev. Brian O'Donnell, S.J., Superior of the Jesuits at Wheeling Jesuit University.

“St. Ignatius wanted the Jesuits to be persons of prayer, but also very engaged in the community,” O'Donnell said.

Zubik, Brandt and O'Donnell said they knew of Bergoglio but are not acquainted with him and didn't know whether he has any personal connection to Western Pennsylvania.

“Many people who know him say he is saintly,” Zubik said.

Zubik says Bergoglio's humility impresses him most. He remarked on the simplicity of the new pope's vestments.

“He was just very simply dressed in plain white,” Zubik said.

In Buenos Aires, Bergoglio lived in a small apartment and rode the subway, Zubik said. And when he was named a cardinal in 2001, he encouraged wealthy Argentines to skip the investiture in Rome and donate the money to charity.

Brandt said he was particularly impressed by the young people who gathered in St. Peter's Square to greet the new pope. He was not surprised that Pope Francis hails from South America, given the concentration of Catholics there. Nearly 77 percent of the 42 million Argentineans are Catholic. About 75 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live outside of Europe, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“It doesn't surprise me that we're moving maybe out of a European model or framework to a more universal or global framework,” Brandt said. “I think it's only appropriate that other parts of the world have representation in the highest levels of the church.”

Staff writers Jennifer Reeger and Matthew Santoni contributed to this report. Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at



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