Pope Francis I, the the Catholic church's new world leader, is "an answer to prayers," Father Anil Thomas believes.

Pope Francis I, the the Catholic church’s new world leader, is “an answer to prayers,” Father Anil Thomas believes.

Thomas, who serves as a priest at St. Peter Catholic Church in Pine Bluff, said that after people prayed for the best replacement for Pope Benedict XVI to be chosen, “God directed the right man to them.”

Pope Benedict retired on Feb. 28 and Pope Francis was elected to succeed him on March 13.

Before his election, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was relatively unknown outside of his native Argentina, where he was respected for his work with the poor. Thomas said he was “surprised” by Bergoglio’s rise to pope.

“But I knew something good was going to happen,” Thomas said. “I’m so happy with the new pope. God made something good happen. People say he is the people’s pope.”

Thomas, who has been at St. Peter for two years, said his black and Hispanic congregations are “happy” with Pope Francis.

“He’s a very simple man,” Thomas said. “He’s a holy man who is people-oriented. Pope Benedict was a holy man, too, and everyone was surprised when he decided to retire.”

Thomas, a priest since 2006, said he believes Pope Francis will foster some changes within the church.

“Doctrine remains the same, but I can see in the way he approaches the people that some changes are ahead,” Thomas said. “I think it will be administrative changes with the way that he functions. I think some change can already be seen, and perhaps more changes are ahead in activities. Pope Francis is very flexible in going to the people.”

Pope Francis has attracted media attention with his sense of humor, which he has utilized in his duties. Thomas was pleased when the new pope became the first to choose the name of Francis.

“St. Francis loved animals and nature and loved the poor,” Thomas said. “Our pope is a kind man, and I think that because of him the Catholic church will grow. I think St. Peter will grow.”

Would Thomas like to meet the new pope?

“It would be an honor for him to come to Pine Bluff so that we all could meet him,” Thomas said.

At Pine Bluff’s St. Joseph Catholic Church, Father Frank Dupreez was busy beginning his priesthood there on Tuesday. Dupreez said in a telephone interview that he’s in the process of meeting and getting to know members of his congregation.

“I’m looking forward to making new friends and serving the community the best that I can,” he said. “I’ve already met some wonderful people here.”

A priest for nearly 27 years, Dupreez said that he feels Pope Francis will be an exceptional leader because of his “humility and spirit of service.”

“I don’t know much about him, but I do know that he’s a holy man and will serve us well,” said Dupreez.

The pope’s humor is pleasing to Dupreez.

“Humor is always a good thing, inside and outside the church,” he said.