FAIRFIELD — Students in Julie Thompson’s eighth-grade class at Holy Spirit School happily opted to miss most of lunch Wednesday.
The classroom alternated between the quiet of a dropped pin and eager voices as the teens waited to see who would be their next pope. The voices elevated as lights came on near the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, but moved to groans as the new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, initially failed to appear.
“Oh, don’t play tricks on us,” said 14-year-old Minerva Pasion, as she waited, watching on the classroom’s television screen.
Like Catholics all over the world, students at Holy Spirit gathered in front of the television to find out who the next pope would be and to catch a first glimpse of the man who would take the place of Pope Benedict XVI after his resignation last month. Many students said the topic was one that had been discussed often in their homes – mostly surrounding the simple question of who it would be.
Sister Liz Curtis, the school’s principal, along with other school personnel, popped in and out of the classroom, watching events unfold on the TV and watching the students.
“It’s wonderful to see (them) engaged . . . full of life and enthusiasm and really wanting to know,” she said.
As the curtains opened, Thompson urged the low rumbles to settle down. For a minute, anyhow, but they erupted into excited shouts and exclamations as the newly elected pope, who took the name Francis, stepped onto the balcony.
“I think it’s cool to get to experience world history with the election of the pope,” Pasion said.
The students followed the pope’s brief speech and then, unbidden by any adults, joined in prayer in the classroom at the same time Pope Francis said prayers with the masses gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Thompson said, in addition to home discussion, the class also talked about the new pope in the days leading up to Wednesday’s decision. She said she hoped the students realized how historic the event is.
Pope Francis is the first pontiff from the Americas and the first of a non-European nation in more than 1,000 years. The election has some local Catholics hoping it signifies a new path for the church.
“I’m hoping change comes to the church . . . it will be more modernized and accepting,” said Holy Spirit student Amina Santiago, 13.
Fairfield resident Andrea Garcia, who is of Argentinian descent, expressed both surprise and happiness at the election of a pope from Argentina. The selection of a pope from South America “makes you think they want to make a change in the Vatican,” she said, changes that will “rejuvenate the faith that may have been lost” and bring back people to church.
“I have faith he’s going to be great and he’s going to make the necessary changes that need to be done,” she said.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.