Houston Catholics say prayers, celebrate announcement of new leader, Pope Francis

March 14, 2013 10:11:35 AM PDT
Special prayers for Pope Francis were said during Thursday morning mass at Houston's Co-Catheral of the Sacred Heart.

A lot of people told us they expected a decision from the College of Cardinals sometime this week, but many were pleasantly surprised that it took just 14 hours of voting time; especially since this pope symbolizes change ahead.

Early mass Thursday at the Co-Cathedral began with applause and prayer for the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis.

"He kinda won my heart right away. Just by seeing his presence and how he presented himself, how he spoke to the crowd," said Melanie Smith.

It was one of those unforgettable moments in life.

"I was just finishing lunch and I saw a tweet about it actually," said Jemina Bouma, a Rice University student.

"And all of the sudden my wife says we got a new pope! Good!" said Jesus Garcia.

And the excitement of Wednesday's historic election of the first pope from Latin America still resonates in the hearts of parishioners, many of whom attended services in Spanish.

"It is an honor. Being Hispanic as well, it is great to hear that we have someone representing the church that is coming from this side of the world," said Milton Marrero.

Pope Francis, who was elected to replace Pope Benedict XVI who announced his retirement last month, is already gaining a reputation for his humility and passion for the less fortunate.

"The love, the love for the poor. That's exactly what Jesus was the beginning," said Garcia.

Inside the Co-Cathedral, the framed image of the pope emeritus is now gone from its place next to the picture of Daniel Cardinal Dinardo -- a sign the church is ready for its new leader.

"It's exciting to see change and to see where this can take the church," said Rice U. student Ivan Perez.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, released a statement Thursday morning which read:
"I rejoice with all the Catholics of the world in the election of Pope Francis. His life as a disciple of Jesus Christ and his service as a Jesuit priest and as Archbishop of the local Church of Buenos Aires have prepared him for his universal pastoral service as successor of St. Peter. His great sense of humility, his eloquent preaching of the Faith, and his life of simplicity and dedication to the poor already mark him as a fitting Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Universal Church.
May I also add how privileged I was to participate in the conclave. It was a humbling and enriching experience."

Houstonians celebrate new pope

From Vatican City to the faithful in Houston, news of the new pope is generated excitement on Wednesday.

Pope Francis, formerly Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, is 76 years old. He reportedly came in second in the 2005 conclave, which elected Pope Benedict XVI, and is the first non-European pope in the modern area.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was among the 115 cardinals who participated in the conclave. In his first interview since leaving the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal DiNardo spoke exclusively with Eyewitness News about his decision to elect Pope Francis and their meeting earlier in the day.

"There's a new pope and such a quiet smile that is welcoming. You could tell in a sense that it's so new to him. Three hours before, we were having lunch and having coffee and three or four hours later, he's elected pope," Cardinal DiNardo said. "So very striking moments for me. I haven't processed it all yet, but very powerful."

The unexpectedly quick and surprising decision Wednesday to elect Pope Francis spread around the world instantaneously, and thanks to social media, likely faster than ever before.

Here in Houston, as word of the white smoke spread Wednesday, bells on the campus of the University of St. Thomas started ringing, signaling to students a new pope had been chosen. Students rushed to the televisions at the student center in anticipation and were overjoyed by the choice.

"I think it's something we need right now," student Jonathan Cruz said. "I just had chills the whole entire time. I didn't care who it was, actually."

"Having a pope from that part of the world is going to bring so much awareness to how much the Latin church really does do for us," student Andrea Bonilla said.

At the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston, banners were hung in the colors of the Vatican to celebrate the news. Some parishioners didn't even wait for the regular 4 o'clock Mass.

The decision is especially meaningful to the Latin American community. Despite claiming nearly 40 percent of the worldwide Catholic flock, a pope has never been elected from the Americas.

"We can hear him, hear his blessing, his guidance in the same language that we have. I don't think that we can ask for anything better," parishioner Tina Luna said.

And for Argentines especially, they couldn't any happier.

"It's a very big thing, very big," said Nellie, owner of Argentina Cafe in the Galleria area. "It's something that we didn't expect and we're very proud, very proud of him, very proud of Argentina."

We've also talked to Catholics and non-Catholics from places like Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay and Honduras. Many of them say they never expected to hear Pope Francis would be named. Some said they are familiar with the pope's leadership as bishop and cardinal and described him as a controversial leader who cares about the poor and not afraid to tackle some of tough and scandalous issues the Catholic Church is dealing with right now.

"It's really nice because it's a new opportunity that we are getting for everybody else. A lot of people might see a difference, but we are very happy," said Sebastian Tapia, a Chilean Catholic. "From South America, we are actually getting somebody from there. They are going to look at us a different way now. They are going to actually know who we are."

Several bishops from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston also took to the podium to express their thoughts. Among them was Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza.

"I offer Pope Francis ... my fidelity and obedient love as the Chief Shepherd of the Universal Catholic Church and my daily prayers that he will confirm our faith in Jesus Christ and lead us in holiness and to the fullness of charity to all people and be a voice for world peace," Fiorenza said. "It's a great moment of joy for the Catholics of the world and I think also for all people who have been very kind and shown their attention to this the process of choosing for a new pope."

People of other faiths are also reacting to the change in the Catholic Church.

They said many faiths look at the Catholic Church and its leadership and hope Pope Francis continues what they called a fantastic interfaith dialogue here in Houston and also bring healing to the Catholic Church.

"Indeed, with all the issues concerning the Catholic Church today, it's our hope that they would come around, a feeling of repentance and rebuilding of the Catholic Church and at the same time maintain the wonderful foundations that they've built with the Jewish community," said Rabbi David Lyon with the Congregation Beth Israel.

"The early reports are very good, that he's a man of the people, that he's humble," said Dr. Jim Bankston with the St. Paul United Methodist Church.

"His name, symbolizing, simplicity, poverty, and humility, that is something Muslims world wide we can vibe with," said Imam Khalis Rashaad with the Ibrahim Islamic Center.

At First Metropolitan Church, Pastor John Ogletree says the election of the first non-European pope signals that changes will be coming to the world's one billion Catholics.

"Even his choosing the name Pope Francis symbolizes that changes are coming within our Catholic brothers and sisters," Ogletree said.

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