Pope Francis surprises German Catholic bishops
Germany's political leaders and Catholic faithful voiced confidence in the Church's new pontiff on Thursday, although some German bishops admitted they were surprised by the conclave's decision to pick Pope Francis.
Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishop's Conference, said the new pope, 76-year-old Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was, despite his age, powerful and ready to fulfil his papal duties.
He said he was not concerned that Europe would lose power in the Catholic Church now that there was a South American pontiff, as “Francis is a man who watches Europe very closely.” He added that in the moment a person becomes pope, their heritage takes a backseat.
"He knows that he represents Church globally. This was the way it was before and will be the way with the new pope, in whom I have faith,” said Zollitsch.
On Wednesday evening, Germany's two youngest Cardinals were present at the Vatican's celebratory banquet, leaving two older members to answer questions at a press conference following the announcement, Die Welt reported.
Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne and Bishop Karl Lehmann were both visably exhausted after partaking in the conclave but, the newspaper said, seemed satisfied with the outcome. “We have done our job well, we have a pope,” said Meisner.
While those privy to the conclave are sworn to secrecy, both cardinals made no secret out of their surprise over the speedy election of Francis.
Lehmann said that the conclave seemed more relaxed this time round, with cardinals from different countries more willing to mix. “I would have guessed that various groups of cardinals would have been dead set on their respective favourites,” he said.
Instead, the atmosphere was reportedly much more open. “The majority of cardinals were not expecting the result,” said Meisner, who added that as soon as the conclave began he cast aside his initial presumptions as to who would be the next pope.
He added that he had only met Francis briefly at other events but always thought he had a “papal calibre” and was excited to see what he was going to bring to the Church. “Although his accent will be different, of course,” Meisner said.
Meisner, a good friend of the last pope, said that he imagined Benedict XVI would “chuckle and say that God had reached his goal” - Francis was in the running at the same time as the German pontiff eight years ago.
Francis' ascension to the papal seat also sparked comment from a wide swath of German society. The Central Council of Jews in Germany said that it hoped Catholic-Jewish relations would improve under the new pope, as relations had not always run smoothly with Benedict at the helm of the Church.
In the political sphere, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “particularly pleased for Christians in Latin America, who for the first time have one of their own as the head of the Catholic Church.”
President Joachim Gauck was impressed with Bergoglio's choice of name, as Francis' namesake was a saint known for his devotion to helping the poor and needy.