HOUSTON - Houston area Catholics and non-Catholics were praying that the new pope would be a man of integrity, but what they also got in Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and now Pope Francis I, is a man who reflects the growing influence of Latin and South Americans in the church.
"I think it is a great statement for our community and our Hispanic population, which is growing," said Bishop George A. Sheltz of The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston at a press conference just a few hours after Pope Francis was named.
"Our Hispanic population is coming in from all parts of Latin America to the area, and not just from Mexico, but from Argentina, Brazil, and Peru. This choice of the new pope has to speak boldly to them that the church realizes that they are an important group."
At the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, people had just left Mass when the bells of the church began to chime, signaling that a new pope had been chosen.
"I'm open to change as long as we all get together," said Grace Campos, a parishioner.
Father Michael Buentello, Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry at University of St. Thomas said he believes that the choice of Bergoglio will be a "revitalization for Europe with a pope from the New World going to the Old World. It's an exciting time for us."
The selection of a pope from Latin America also brings a feeling of acceptance to those who hoped the new pope would be non-European. Bergoglio is the first South American to ever lead the church.
"It's really a time for the church and the world to become focused on Latin America in a more robust way," said Father Anthony Giampietro, Ph.D., of the Department of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas.
Father Joe Carola of Houston, who spoke with Local 2's Bill Balleza in Rome, said that many people are already calling Pope Francis I "the pope of the poor."
"He truly is a man of the people," said Carola, who met Bergoglio at the Vatican the day that the former archbishop was elevated to cardinal in 2001.
Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston also said it should be noted that Bergoglio is the first ever member of the Jesuit order.
"I'm sure many members of the Houston Jesuit community are delighted to have one of their community as the Holy Father and Pope," said Fiorenza.
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