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March 13. 2013 11:49PM

NH residents welcome new Pope with open arms


A nun takes communion from Bishop Libasci, who was officiating the Mass in celebration of selection of new Pope, at Saint Joseph Cathedral in Manchester on Wednesday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
Like Catholics around the world, the faithful in New Hampshire prayed and rejoiced Wednesday over the selection of the first man from their side of the world - the Western Hemisphere - to lead the Catholic Church.

But with little known about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Catholics hung on every word, every movement, every action of Pope Francis.

"(The name) Francis, it just really does bring it down, doesn't it, to the people," said Bishop Peter Libasci after leading a Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Manchester. "You know how people love St. Francis - St. Francis and the animals, St. Francis and the poor. That wonderful story about how he just gave everything to the poor. I think he's saying something very, very important here."

Eight priests and two bishops - former Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian - celebrated a special Mass alongside Libasci Wednesday evening. The service included incense, a choir and about 400 congregants.

"I like that he's from the Western Hemisphere, he's Spanish-speaking, and he's so humble," said Bedford resident Susan Lang as she entered the church.

Hispanics were especially elated. At St. Anne-St. Augustin Parish in Manchester, which ministers to Hispanics and other immigrant groups, the pastor said he witnessed a 64-year-old parishioner jump like a teenager.

"It's absolutely wonderful. The New World has become as important as the Old World," said the Rev. Joseph Gurdak, a Capuchin-Franciscan, who spent years in Central America.

Gurdak said he is also encouraged that Bergoglio lives in an apartment, cooked his own meals and chose to live like ordinary Argentinians.

"People in the United State of America, whether they're Latino or not, they would be proud someone from the Americas is a Pope," said Gustavo Moral, a native Ecuadoran and Bedford business owner who attends church at St. Anne-St. Augustin.

New Hampshire had slight connections to two of the cardinals thought to be in the running for Pope. Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, was geographically as close as possible to a favorite son. And Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the former archbishop of Quebec, was succeeded by Gerald Lacroix, who grew up in Manchester.

Libasci, whose Italian heritage matches that of the new Pope, said he was impressed over how Pope Francis approached the balcony at St. Peter's Basilica. Most Popes do so with raised hands, but Libasci noted that Francis kept his at his side.

"He did not make any fanfare, but just greeted the world with a simple hello," the bishop said.

mhayward@unionleader.com

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