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Locals excited about new pope

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

There was an hour-long bell ringing at one Hays parish. Across town, there was cheering in the hallways and classrooms at a Catholic school.

The same cry heard around the world was repeated in Hays early Wednesday afternoon.

"We have a new pope," Principal Rachel Wentling announced enthusiastically over the intercom at Holy Family Elementary School at approximately 1:15 p.m.

The Cardinals at the Vatican City in Rome elected a new pope, announcing Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina, now known as Pope Francis, had been chosen to replace Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his retirement in mid-February.

When Kevin Rupp, parish office administrator at St. Joseph Parish in Hays, heard the news, he ran across the street and turned on the bells in the church -- and let them ring for approximately an hour.

"I think it's awesome," Rupp said.

"We're rejoicing, so I turned on the peal," he said of the sound of the combination of three bells when being rung together.

The bells drew people's attention. They could be heard distinctly in downtown Hays -- and at St. Joseph's neighboring businesses.

"Someone from Sunflower Electric called me and asked if there was something wrong with our bells, if they were stuck," Rupp said of the office just across the street to the west of St. Joseph. Rupp told the caller simply, "We have a new pope."

Those words were met with shouts of joy at Holy Family.

"I believe it was described as jubilation in the halls," Wentling said, adding teachers had been going over the process of the papal election with their students.

"They were aware of the significance of this historical event," she said. "Some of the kids didn't even want to go out to recess. They wanted to stay and watch (the pope's first appearance) on TV."

Wentling was thrilled with the timing of the announcement of a new pope.

"It was really cool that we got to celebrate that all together in our school," she said.

Bill DeWitt, principal at Thomas More Prep-Marian Junior-Senior High School, agreed.

"The kids recognized that this is their church, and this our leadership," DeWitt said. "You don't know how often this is going to happen in your lifetime. We announced it to our student body, and there was a lot of intrigue and excitement."

Members of one Hays area parish were especially pleased when they heard the name the new pope chose.

"I received several calls from parishioners who were very moved by the name chosen," said Lilly Binder, pastoral associate of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Munjor, a small town approximately 6 miles southeast of Hays.

"St. Francis is such a role model for us for our parish. What a spiritually moving day for our Catholic church -- and the world -- to witness the selection of our next Holy Father, Pope Francis."