LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Bells sounded at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles today to greet the selection of a new pope, and parishioners said they were hopeful the pontiff would successfully lead the church in an ever-changing, modern society.
“I hope it will be a nice change, an exciting change,” Rosin Chrisman, 53, said as she left a midday Mass at the cathedral celebrated by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez.
She said the new pope — Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina — will be tasked with “keeping up with the new changes … the way that society is moving.”
Another parishioner, 26-year-old Chris De La Cruz said as he entered the cathedral that he hopes the new pope will be “someone who is open-minded to the 21st Century.”
The new pontiff, the 266th leader of the Catholic Church, takes over for Pope Benedict XVI, who retired due to health reasons at the end of February. He was the first pope in 600 years to resign. Bergoglio, 76, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, took the name Pope Francis.
During the midday Mass, Gomez described the church’s new leader as the “rock the church stands on.”
Speaking to reporters afterward, Gomez said he met the new pope through their work together on the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, which was created in 1958.
“I look forward to seeing him and getting to know him better when I’m in Rome next month,” Gomez said. “It is a beautiful sign to have a new pope who is the first pope from the Americas, from the New World.”
The archbishop called the new pontiff “a defender of the poor, a strong teacher and a leader committed to renewal in the church.” He called the selection a “great day for the church and for the world.”
“For us as Catholics, this is a beautiful, spiritual moment, a time of joy and thanksgiving, a time of prayer for the whole church,” he said. “It is a great day not only for Catholics but for the whole world, because the pope is a leading sign of the universality of God’s church. And the pope is a sign of Jesus Christ’s love for the world and for every person in every nation.”
The selection of a pope from Argentina could prove to be particularly welcome news in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the membership of which is about 70 percent Latino.
Los Angeles’ Catholic city leaders also hailed the choice as having special relevance to their constituents.
Bergoglio “speaks the language of a great number of people in my district and throughout Los Angeles, where more than 40 percent of the city’s population speaks Spanish,” according to Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents a mostly northeast Los Angeles district.
Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights and parts of the northeastern city, said it was “not surprising that they selected one from Latin America, given the high percentages of Latino Catholics worldwide.” He added that he hoped the new pontiff would stand at the “forefront in addressing the world’s social and economic injustices.”
Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former archbishop of the nearly 5 million- strong Archdiocese of Los Angeles, was among the cardinals at the Vatican who took part in the selection of the new pope. His presence made some headlines due to recent revelations about his handling of sex-abuse claims against priests.
On Tuesday, attorneys for four people announced a nearly $10 million settlement of lawsuits against Mahony and the Los Angeles archdiocese over claims of abuse by former priest Michael Baker.
On his Twitter page, Mahony hailed the selection of Pope Francis.
“It happened! First time for a pope from the Southern Hemisphere and from Latin America,” he wrote. “I’m ecstatic! Pope Francis I will be a great gift!”
Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin W. Vann, who learned Spanish to better connect with parishioners, said he felt a sense of pride for Latinos.
“Having learned Spanish to walk with the Hispanic people, they’ve been a big part of my life, so I feel a lot of pride,” Vann told City News Service.
Vann said he was also impressed with the way Francis connected with his flock today, especially when he humbly asked for prayers.
“He asked them to pray for him. I think that was very significant,” Vann said. “I think that shows who the man is and we’re going to see that in every part of his life.”
Even the choice of St. Francis of Assisi as the inspiration for his name will resonate with Latino Catholics, Vann said.
“Francis makes an immediate connection with the Italians and Hispanics,” Vann said, noting that St. Francis was Italian, and the Franciscan order is responsible for many of the missions in California and Texas.
Francis’ comment that the cardinals picked someone from a “far away country,” invoked memories for Vann of his time in seminary when Pope John Paul II was selected.
“Pope John Paul II used the same kind of language. That was the first thought that came to me,” Vann said.
Father Christian Mondor, a Franciscan priest of St. Simon and Jude church in Huntington Beach, said he was “really delighted” the new pontiff took his name from St. Francis of Assisi.
“He has a great interest in the needs of the poor, just as Francis of Assisi did,” Mondor said, referring to the modest lifestyle of the pope who lived in an apartment and took public transportation to work as a cardinal. “I was delighted to hear that he took the ordinary local transportation to his office in Argentina.”
Pope Francis is also known as a scholar, continuing the tradition of Jesuit priests, Mondor said.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have someone so highly educated and a teacher,” Mondor said. “He’s very much a scholar and theologian and yet very down to earth and with the people.”
Mondor was also struck with the way the new pope addressed the throngs outside the Vatican, particularly when he asked the faithful to pray for him.
“It was a beautiful gesture of humility and a recognition that he will need prayer,” Mondor said.
Mondor said Pope Francis also appears to be much like Pope John Paul II and noted the two were close friends. The new pope also reminded the Franciscan priest of Pope John, who presided over sweeping reform of the church with Vatican II.
“He seems to have some of the qualities that so endeared John the 23rd to everyone,” Mondor said. “This is certainly a sign that we may have another very inspiring pope.”
The selection of a pontiff from Latin America was a “great move away from Europe, a very healthy move,” Mondor said. “We had hope it would be someone from Canada or the United States, some of us anyway, but coming from Latin America is highly significant. … It’s also a statement of the global nature of the Catholic church.”
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