"He rides the bus! He's one of us!"
About 100 exuberant Catholics chanted in singsong Wednesday near the Colorado Capitol at a rally for newly elected Pope Francis.
The gathering was a prelude to a Mass of Thanksgiving for the new pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, celebrated across the street at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
Few at the gathering of mostly young Catholics had heard of Bergoglio, formerly archbishop of Buenos Aires, before his fifth-ballot selection in Rome on Wednesday by 115 cardinals sequestered in the Sistine Chapel.
"He was not somebody I had read up on," said 32-year-old Kevin Keseo of Greeley as he waved at passing traffic with a poster inscribed:
"I just wanted to be here for Mass to celebrate a new pope," Keseo said. "It's an exciting time for the church."
Many said they were heartened by early reports of Francis' humble manner and modest lifestyle — he passed on palatial digs and a limousine he could have had in Argentina, taking an apartment and the bus.
His choice of name — marking the first time a pope took the name of beloved St. Francis of Assisi — also appeals.
"The beauty of this is that he chose the name of the saint of humility," said James "JD" Flynn, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver. "This is a guy whose life is a simple life."
Flynn said he had been stunned by the selection — the first pope from the Americas, the first in more than 1,000 years from outside Europe and the first member of the Jesuit order.
"You hear people say that the church has lost relevance and its place in society, and yet the whole world stopped to watch what was happening at the Vatican City," Monsignor Tom Fryar said at the Mass of Thanksgiving.
Francis was a bold, groundbreaking choice by the cardinals for several reasons, said University of Denver religious studies
He said Jesuits historically have been among the church's greatest theologians, educators and "turnaround crews" when the church needed reform and political savvy in the secular world, Raschke crowed.
"It's unique, it's remarkable and it's a new day," said Father John Fitzgibbons, president of Regis University, a Jesuit institution. "The name Francis resonated on two levels. It obviously refers to St. Francis of Assisi, with his love for the poor, his humility and his reaching out to the marginalized. Further, the great patron saint of missionaries is St. Francis Xavier,
Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology, said that although he was "joyful" about a pope from Latin America, he had concerns about Francis' silence during the Dirty War in Argentina in the 1970s, when about 30,000 Argentines disappeared, or were raped or killed in a fight between the military regime and leftist guerillas.
"I am concerned that he is a staunch conservative who talks about being sympathetic to the plight of the poor, but through his tenure, he has not really advocated for the social justice that the poor need," De La Torre said.
Cristina Jeffords, a native of Argentina who is now a parishioner of St. Thomas More Church in Centennial, said she was thrilled
"We love the fact he is so humble," Jeffords said. "We really hope he does for Argentina what John Paul II did for Poland — cleanse the whole system of ... political corruption."
Nicole Thomason, 35, brought her three boys — ages 6 weeks to 3 years — to the rally, the Denver edition of nationwide events collectively called "Rally for the Pope."
"I'm here to support our Catholic Church and new Holy Father, Pope Francis," she said. "I wasn't familiar with him. I was filled with so much emotion when Pope Benedict resigned. I had such feeling for Benedict — I met him twice when I lived in Rome."
Yet she was reassured, she said, when she saw the sweetly smiling Francis. "He reminded me of a big lovable Pope John XXIII," she said. "My son Matthias said: 'I like his tummy, Mommy.' I told him, 'I do, too.' "
Terry Ritchey, 59, of Genesee, said she was delighted to be so outnumbered by young Catholics at the rally.
"I so appreciate how special all this is," she said. "You hear so much analysis from the secular world about all the politicking behind selecting a new pope, but we Catholics know it's the Holy Spirit's choice."
Reporters Colleen O'Connor and Daniel Petty contributed to this report.