While white smoke billowed from of the chapel chimney and bells tolled in Vatican City, bells also rang out Wednesday in Myrtle Beach.
The chimes were coming from St. Andrew Catholic Church on North Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach where a papal bunting was hung to welcome newly named Pope Francis.
The church itself was quiet. The morning mass had ended hours before the news broke announcing Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, had been chosen by the Catholic cardinals as the new pope.
But, Cristina Aldridge was celebrating in her living room.
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Originally from Bogota, Columbia, she said she was especially excited to learn the new pope is Latin – specifically from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We are so excited,” she said while she and her husband Mike Aldridge watched the news Wednesday. “He’s from Argentina. The first South American pope. We are very happy.”
For Mike Aldridge, it’s the first time he’s seen the cardinals choose a pope since he converted to Catholicism, and said the process is more exciting now.
“It’s just continually getting better for me,” he said of being a Catholic. “I’m enjoying the suspense and the whole [process] of the conclave. It was really exciting.”
He said he was surprised by the election of Francis.
“I was fully expecting a European and probably an Italian,” he said. “This is totally different and it’s wonderful. Like every good American I’d loved to have seen [Timothy] Dolan [chosen], but that’s just patriotism and not really religious.”
Dolan, from New York, was identified by some news outlets as a potential pope.
Cristina Aldridge said she was surprised how quickly the decision was made, but has faith Francis is the best choice.
“I know he’s going to be wonderful for the church,” she said. “He has a lot of work to do, especially now that the church has so many problems. I don’t know how he will take care of the problems, but I’m sure he will put all his soul to help solve the problems.”
Myrtle Beach resident Angela Miller agrees that Francis has a lot of work, especially to help the Catholic Church regain respect.
“There are a lot of changes that need to be made,” she said. “He has received a lot of baggage. It will be interesting to see how he deals with it.”
Gerald Beasley, of Florence, said he also hopes for some change.
“I hope he will reform the priesthood, but maintain the orthodoxy of our teachings,” he said. “I also hope he will engage protestants in meaningful dialogue to make the church one again.”