Pastor Martin Orjianioke of Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church began pastoring in his homeland of Nigeria. He also pastored in Germany before coming to Memphis, where on Wednesday he witnessed history unfold on television.
Along with Pastor Orjianioke in Memphis, Catholics – and non-Catholics – watched as 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Buenos Aires, Argentina was presented to the world as Pope Francis I.
The naming of any pope is historic, but this was way beyond that. In a remarkably fast conclave, 115 cardinals made the decision to select the Catholic Church's first pope from the Americas, the first from outside Europe, and the first Jesuit.
"He is somebody from the new world," said Pastor Orjianioke. "His election is an expression of the universality of the (Catholic) church and that God's promises will be fulfilled."
With much of the world literally trained on the square in Vatican City, the ascension of Pope Francis I brought closure after the surprising resignation of now retired Pope Benedict XVI, who last month (Feb. 28) became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
"God heard the prayers of millions of Catholics who prayed for a pope. One who expresses a profound sense of humility. He shares the attitude of the people," said Orjianioke.
"Additionally, it struck me that he said, 'I'm here to evangelize Rome.' He's not an insider bringing the message of Christ. He has come to Rome to hear the message of God and from there he will carry the message to other parts of the world."
In a written statement released to The New Tri-State Defender, Bishop J. Terry Steib – Bishop of the Diocese of Memphis – said, "All of us from the Catholic Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee congratulate our new pontiff, Pope Francis, and pledge our support and allegiance."
The selection was a pleasant surprise, Bishop Steib said in his statement.
"The fact that he is a religious who took the name Francis speaks to his humility. His choice of names also speaks well of how he plans to guide the church in focusing on the needs of strengthening and evangelizing the universal Church. The fact that the Holy Spirit chose him from Latin America to serve as the Supreme Pontiff is indeed a grace."
Michael Synk, a practicing, church-going Catholic of 55 years, said, "It's a big day for Catholics and the new pope. His name brings optimism for renewal to the Church. It represents the new leader's spirituality and where his papacy is going."
Synk noted that Pope Francis I was named after two important saints: "St. Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit priest full of missionary zeal. He took Catholicism east to Japan and India. And St. Francis of Assisi, who started the order of monks and priests, and who expressed love and charity. He (Francis) had a call from God to reform the Church and make it more simple. I look at this as bringing love and charity to the whole world."
Pope Francis I began his papacy by bowing and asking the parishioners to "Pray for me." He also asked prayer for his predecessor. Concluding, in Italian, he said, "Have a good evening and rest well...We'll see each other soon."
Those reporting on his character and pastoral style, speak of him as being known to Argentineans as a charismatic, humble and simple man. As a lover of the poor, he reportedly denied himself the luxuries former Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He does not own a car. He took public transportation to work, lived in a small home and cooked his own meals.
Father Tim Sullivan, pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, called the new pope "a breath of fresh air."
"We don't want a bureaucrat, but someone with a vision. He's not part of a club; that inner circle, but one who will bring a fresh perspective. He has a reputation that is progressive on social issues and a commitment to the poor. He's very good at that," said Sullivan.
"He has a sense of the world – not European based, but will be open. He's used to working with non-Catholics, ecumenicals, those of the Christian faith and inter-faith, those Christians and non-Christians," said Sullivan.
During the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Bergoglio gained the second-highest votes in several rounds before he bowed out of the running.
"He has worked with the Church and the government in Argentina. He's dealt with an oppressive governmental system...It's important to realize he's not a bureaucrat," said Pastor Sullivan.