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Students at St. Philip's School assembled in the social hall Wednesday afternoon to watch the announcement of newly elected Pope Francis. Courtesy of Robb Naylor

Rev. Craig Vasek of St. Phillips Catholic Church: ‘Nobody should have discounted him’

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BEMIDJI – Stupefied was the word used by Rev. Craig Vasek of St. Philip's Catholic Church Wednesday to explain his initial reaction to the announcement of the new pope.

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Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Argentina, who had taken the name of Pope Francis, was given the title Wednesday.

“He wasn’t one they had been speaking about often,” Vasek said. “Even though they say he was the No. 2 in the previous conclave. Nobody should have discounted him because of that.”

When Vasek first saw images of Pope Francis, his reaction was “he looks like a pope.”

“When he came I out I said this is a man who looks like the pope,” Vasek said with a laugh.

It was different to see a new face in the pope’s outfit for Vasek.

“That was odd. I’d fallen in love with Pope Benedict, I’ve only been a priest for two years and so he has been the pope of my priesthood,” Vasek said. “So this will be a pope I will experience a lot more of my priesthood with.”

Pope Francis is the first pope to come from the Americas. Vasek said because of this, the U.S. can claim Pope Francis.

“He’s the first pope from the Americas. So the United States can claim him. He’s one of ours, we can say that,” Vasek said. “And so we have a pope for all the Americas, from the Americas, so the United States can claim him as the first American Pope, even though he’s not from the United States.”

Vasek said he it was interesting to him to hear what Pope Francis said and how he spoke.

“He spoke in broken Italian, which was influenced by Spanish. So he was saying words in Italian and words in Spanish when he was being announced,” Vasek said. “He was attempting to speak to the major population there, the Italians. And he did a fine job.”

What struck Vasek was the message Pope Francis spoke about.

“He spoke about the universal mission of the church. We understand universality as a church that means the gospel has been spread to all of the nations,” Vasek said Wednesday afternoon. “As it says in the scripture, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek. But all are one in Christ.’ This identification of universality and Catholicity, he spoke to that.”

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