Monsignor Steven Rohlfs picked the right country of origin but the wrong person in predicting who would become the next pope.
The College of Cardinals chose Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the first pope from the Americas. Bergoglio, who reportedly finished just behind Benedict XVI in the 2005 conclave, chose the name Pope Francis.
Rohlfs, rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, said he thought the choice would have been Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, of Argentina, who also shares Bergoglio’s Italian heritage.
He was surprised at the choice because of Pope Francis’ age, though Rohlfs said the new pope looks to be in good shape and appeared animated as he spoke Wednesday to a crowd gathered at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
“It was a very creative choice, I thought, on the part of the cardinals,” Rohlfs said.
Monsignor Richard Murphy, of St. Timothy Catholic Church in Walkersville, said Bergoglio seemed like a good choice.
“I was very impressed with him choosing the name of Francis,” Murphy said, suggesting the pope named himself after St. Francis of Assisi, who had a vision from Jesus to rebuild the church and evangelize the world.
“I think he’s indicating that will be his mission,” Murphy said.
Murphy believes the choice of Bergoglio would bring a different perspective to a church that has traditionally chosen European popes, he said.
Maria-Teresa Shuck, director of Centro Hispano de Frederick, commended the Vatican for electing a South American pope, particularly as most South and Central American people are of the Roman Catholic faith.
“I hope that the church continues to move the faith forward and inspire those in Third World countries that are suffering due to corrupt politics, poverty and lack of education,” she said.
About 40 percent of Catholics are from Latin America, and by the end of the decade, about half of American Catholics will be Hispanic, Rohlfs said.
“The church needs a shot in the arm in Latin America,” he said, an area where evangelical churches have been gaining ground in recent years.
Followers of the papacy look to the pontiff’s introductory speech for signals, Rohlfs said, and Pope Francis seemed to engage with his audience, even asking for their blessing.
“He’s chatty, and not necessarily a formal pope,” Rohlfs said.