Bishop Mark L. Bartchak of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown believes Pope Francis will bring the people of the Catholic church together.
"When a new pope is elected, by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit, new life is breathed into the church," Bartchak said. He said he witnessed it when Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were chosen.
At a news conference at the diocesan offices Wednesday, Bartchak said a friend of his in Rome, Monsignor Anthony Figuerido knows Francis and was among the commentators who talked on television about the new pontiff.
"Monsignor Figuerido spoke with great joy about the humility and charity of our new pope," Bartchak said in a prepared statement. He added that he is confident that Figuerido's familiarity with Francis is "a good sign for all of us for a joyful and humble ministry that will lead us forward in the church."
Bartchak noted that the 76-year-old former Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first pope since the eighth century who was born outside of Europe, and he is the first pope born in the Americas. He later added that Francis is of Italian descent and is multilingual, speaking Italian and Spanish fluently.
The first Jesuit pope has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, but Bartchak said he is well known and has held high offices in the church, including president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Argentina.
Jesuits are known for their missionary work and for engagement in scholarship, and Pope Francis is a scholar in his own right, Bartchak said.
The new pontiff is known for his work with the poor and his humility, including cooking his own meals and taking public transportation. Bartchak said Francis' humility could be observed in his remarks when he asked for prayer and figuratively and literally bowed to the people.
Bartchak is not sure when he will have the opportunity to meet the new pope. He said the diocese is sponsoring a pilgrimage to Rome in July and participants originally expected to visit now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo.
He said the group might have an opportunity to attend a public audience with Francis and will know closer to the date of the trip. He said he might have the opportunity to greet the pontiff, a courtesy often extended to visiting bishops.
Overall, he finds the appointment as a time of great joy and one that sets the people at ease.
"It's like a family without a father or a mother. Now we have our leader," he said.
Mirror Religion Editor Linda Gracey is at 946-7448.