PITTSFIELD -- Celebration, gathering, prayer and rejoice rang throughout the Berkshire Catholic community Wednesday.
In Vatican City, a group of Catholic cardinals picked 76-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the first Latin American pope, the first non-European pope in 1,200 years, the first Jesuit pope, and the first to take the name Francis, after the saint who was devoted to the poor.
"It's historic," said Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which serves four counties including the Berkshires. "It's a global decision, but one that affects us locally as well."
The diocese had been praying all week "for a new pope that would be both wise and holy," Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell said in a statement.
"In today's election of Pope Francis, we have been blessed with just such a person," he said in the statement. "I invite the people of our diocese to join me in praying for our new spiritual shepherd as he undertakes his pastoral duties."
To meet with The Eagle at his church, St. Joseph on North Street, Monsignor Michael Shershanovich left a viewing party where several church members watched the live coverage from Vatican City on TV.
"The church has a new leader -- it's always a call for rejoicing and celebration," Shershanovich said.
It was about 8 p.m. in Vatican City when Pope Francis stepped outside to reveal
"I would like to thank you for your embrace," Pope Francis, wearing all white, told the crowd from the white balcony on St. Peter's Basilica. He then recited the Lord's Prayer and a Hail Mary and asked the crowd to pray for him before he blessed them.
"I think his initial appearance on the balcony of St. Peter's just speaks volumes," Shershanovich said.
Pope Francis was chosen during a two-day papal conclave. He received the second-most votes behind Pope Benedict XVI in the 2005 papal election. Pope Benedict announced his resignation last month, the first pope to do so in more than half a millennium.
Pope Francis is known for living a humble life and speaking out for the poor in Buenos Aires. Picking the name Francis may give a hint at the future of the Catholic church, according to the Rev. Peter A. Gregory, a pastor at St. Charles Church on Briggs Avenue in Pittsfield.
"Probably one of the most favorable, popular saints is Saint Francis of Assisi. He was a very humble man," Gregory said. "[Pope Francis] is a very humble man, very intelligent, has a wonderful background, and he's a man for the people -- especially the needy and the poor."
Material from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.