Bishop William Murphy's long-planned visit to St. Anthony's High School in South Huntington Thursday became a celebration for the new pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America.
"Welcome to the first day of the new pope, His Holiness Pope Francis," the bishop said over the public address system, his first remarks to the students, faculty and staff during a morning visit that included a prayer service for the pope. "What a great breath of fresh air and new hope he's going to be for us."
Brother Gary, principal of the high school run by Franciscan brothers, spoke of the auspicious timing. Plans were laid three months ago for the visit from the bishop, who goes to Catholic high schools throughout the Diocese of Rockville Centre during the year.
"Little did we know that the Holy Spirit would converge St. Anthony's and Bishop Murphy today on a very important day," Brother Gary said.
Pope Francis' selection was a point of pride among the half-dozen Hispanic students who greeted Murphy in recognition of the pope's Latin American roots. The students said having an Argentine pope highlights the church's diversity and the importance of Latin America to the Catholic Church.
"It shows how the church is universal," said Victor Morales, 16, a junior from Medford. "To change things up for a pope to come from Latin America rather than Europe is really amazing . . . The church is going to feed off of that in endless ways. It's a huge blessing."
Murphy told the students, staff and journalists about what he has heard about the new pope, calling him a "real holy priest" and citing his humbleness and gentle nature.
In his homily during the prayer service, Murphy walked along the chapel's center aisle, telling those assembled that the pope's election shows "once again, how truly the church is universal, because the Lord called this man from Argentina. And for the first time in the 2,000-year history of the church, someone from our hemisphere [was selected], the hemisphere of 500-plus years of new evangelization, the hemisphere in which the church was planted over 500 years ago and is growing and flourishing."
Murphy added in an interview that he hopes students will look to Pope Francis as an "example of how to witness Jesus Christ . . . We have to show people that to be a follower of Jesus Christ, to be a member of this church is an extraordinarily great, rich and wondrous thing to be."