LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Catholic church leaders in Arkansas said they were impressed and pleased Wednesday with the election of a pope from Latin America.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock says Pope Francis is in a strong position to address the church’s challenges and that he reacted with “surprise and delight” at the selection.
“His parents were immigrants — Argentina is a nation of immigrants like the United States — and so I rejoice in the election to the papacy of the first son of immigrants in modern history,” Taylor said in a prepared statement.
He also noted that Francis is Hispanic, an ethnic group that includes the majority of the world’s Catholics.
In Pope County, the Rev. Chuma Ibebuike, pastor at St. John’s in Russellville, said he’d been watching the news all day. He said Francis’ election had a different feel than past papal conclaves.
“The joy is that this man (Pope Emeritus Benedict) is still alive, so this conclave took place in a good mood,” he said. “The cardinals were not in grief, nobody died.”
Ibebuike said having a pope from the Americas will have an impact in Europe and elsewhere.
“That the leader of the whole church comes from the new church, so to say, is amazing and I think he will really strengthen the faith of the old church.”
Ibebuike, who is from Nigeria, said a pope from Argentina seems to open the possibility of a pope from African or Asian countries.
“The black pope, that’s what we are still waiting for,” he said.
Claibanne Williamson, a Catholic who works in a research department at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said it was thrilling when she saw Francis walk onto the balcony. She said it has been interesting to follow the process of choosing a new pope while living in a state with so few Catholics. Four percent of Arkansas residents are Catholic, about 122,000 people.
“There certainly aren’t very many,” Williamson said. “There are none in my (office). They keep asking me questions — I have to look it up sometimes.”
She also said she hopes Francis can put an end to the troubles at the Vatican.
“I hope that he is able to deal with the scandals — the sexual abuse scandals, the different financial scandals — in an unbiased way,” she said.
Taylor said Francis appears well-suited to address the challenges the church faces.
“His years working with the congregations — offices — in the Vatican will help him address problems that have emerged recently in the curia,” Taylor said.
He said Francis has a clear message that life begins at conception and that “homosexual marriage” is against church teaching.