Baltimore City

Election of first South American as pope excites local Catholics

Gail Liss, the front desk receptionist for Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, went to a dentist appointment at noontime Wednesday, confident that a new pope would not be chosen before she got back to work.

Liss was wrong. While she sitting in the dentist chair, she heard on the radio that white smoke had billowed in the Vatican, the traditional sign that a pope had been elected by the Vatican's conclave of cardinals.


"I gotta get out of here," she thought.

Liss rushed back to the Cathedral office on North Charles Street just in time to see the new pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, introduced. Bergoglio, a Jesuit, has taken the name Pope Francis I.


When a reporter called, all of the staff was gathered around a TV, watching Roman Catholic Church history unfold. It was the third time in her 18 years there that a new pope has been elected.

As in much of the world, north Baltimore was buzzing over the news. A special Mass was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, where a press conference was held at 4 p.m.

Even non-Catholics paid their respects. The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, based at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on University Parkway, quickly issued a press release congratulating the pope.

"We're kind of shocked," Liss said, not only because the decision came much earlier than they expected, but also because, "( wasn't at the top of anyone's list or someone that anyone was talking about."

Although excited about the election of Bergoglio, the first South American to be named pope, Liss said there was some disappointment that an American cardinal wasn't chosen.

But she said, "He's from South America, so we're getting closer."

In fact, the new pope's heritage was a major cause of celebration for Susanna Quiroz, a native of Argentina, who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years and plans to apply for U.S. citizenship this year.

"It's amazing," said Quiroz, 42, of Towson, who has two jobs, as a cook for Grano's Pasta Bar in Hampden and in a cafe at the Anderson Honda dealership in Hunt Valley. "When I heard his last name, I started to jump."


Her only regret, she said, is that her mother, a native of Paraguay, died last year and didn't get a chance to witness the new pope's election.

Mindful of sex abuse scandals and other issues facing the Catholic Church, Quiroz is hopeful that the new pope will be a global beacon.

"I want a bright new way, not only for the Catholics, but for the world," she said, adding that she wonders if it is not time to allow priest to marry.

"I am trying to be more open and change a little bit and let them have the opportunity to have a family. They don't have an opportunity to have a life," Quiroz said.

Also pleasantly surprised by the news was Gary Rand, principal of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Hampden.

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Rand, a longtime educator for the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, said his biggest hope is that the new pope continues to support and fund Catholic education, which has taken a beating in the Baltimore area in recent years, with the archdiocese closing more than a dozen Catholic schools to save money.


Rand also rejected the notion that the Roman Catholic Church needs to change drastically.

"I think the most important part of the Catholic Church is its traditions," he said.

At St. Pius X Catholic Church on York Road at the Baltimore city-county line, pastor life director Carol Pacione said she was mildly surprised to see a non-European elected pope.

"I hope that's a signal that we have a global church," said Pacione, who was Jesuit-educated at Loyola University Maryland. "I'm very happy that we've come across the ocean."

Acknowledging concern about issues facing the Roman Catholic Church, Pacione said, "I hope the new pope finds ways to heal those divisions," and will "lend a listening ear" to those who do not agree with all of the church's core beliefs.

"I think our church needs to humble itself," she said.