Father Larry Niese, the priest at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Woodstock, said he was excited by the news and impressed with the man chosen by the cardinals, the first pope from Latin America.
Niese has served at the south Cherokee church for nine years and during that time it has almost tripled in size to 2,700 active households, many of them Spanish speaking.
Niese said everybody he has spoken with at his church is universally pleased with the choice and delighted and surprised that the process to elect a new leader went so quickly.
He said that the new pope, Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, proved a lot in choosing the name Francis.
“He is from a wealthy family, but became a priest, and like Francis of Assisi, who wanted to rebuild his church, and is noted for revitalizing the church, he brings humility, simplicity, and the desire to build up the church,” Niese said.
“Yesterday, there was real excitement that the new pope was chosen and that he took the name the Francis, a man who threw it all off and did what God told him to do,” Niese said. “I am really impressed, he seems to be very humble; he asked the people to pray for him first. From the things I am hearing he is very much understanding of the needs of the community.”
Bob Rush, a Canton city councilman and parish administrator at Our Lady of La Salette Catholic Church in Canton, expressed his excitement and delight with the choice as well.
“I am really excited about it. He is from all I know a moderate, and I hoped he would get it. He will represent the Latinos in the church, and there is a large number, particularly in our church here in Canton,” Rush said.
Rush said that as a Jesuit, and that he chose the name Francis, showed his affinity for the poor.
“He washed the feet of people with AIDS, that is a humbling position. It is a positive for the church that he is that kind of man,” Rush said.
Rush has been a member of the Canton church since 2007, and is what he called a cradle Catholic, born into the church, educated at Catholic schools and a church member his entire life.
For Ursula Cox, a founding member of the Canton Catholic church, the choice in a good one she says is exciting to everyone she knows.
“The Jesuit order is a very intellectual order. I think he is truly God’s man and they made a good choice,” Cox said.
Cox said the first mass ever said in Cherokee County, held by the Marist order, was at her family farm, the McCollum farm in Canton.
She said that the new pope will be a unifying force for all faiths.
“I think all faiths are excited about this man. The cardinals pray that the Holy Spirit guides them, and after prayful consideration they selected him. He is going to be very much a traditionalist but with compassion,” Cox said.
The word Catholic means universal, Cox said.
“This man’s impact will be universal. I think it is interesting that there is such excitement surrounding this worldwide and I think he is going to be a vital source throughout the world. Especially coming from the Americas, he will have a lot of influence,” Cox said.
Niese also said the pope very much understands the needs of the people.
“We have heard that he would ride the bus instead of taking his car, didn’t live in the cardinal’s house, but in a small apartment and even after conclave, instead of using a limousine, rode with rest of cardinals in a bus.”
Niese said his church has one mass in Spanish, and the church is full for that with about 650 in attendance.
The Woodstock church has plans to build a new church that will seat about 1,000. He said his church is vibrant, with many outreach programs into the community.
Cox said she watched the announcement of the new pope live on television at the home of some friends who are Baptists, and that they were excited too.
“He is going to capture the attention of everyone worldwide,” she said.
Rush too stressed that Pope Francis is a man of the people.
“He lived in a two-bedroom apartment, visited with the poor on the weekends; he is truly a man of the people.” Rush said.