Hours after Pope Francis emerged from a Vatican balcony as the new leader of the Catholic Church, the Latino community at St. Rocco Church in Avondale exuded excitement and pride.
“I’m very happy the pope is the first Latin American. I was at work and turned on the television. I prayed for him,” said Jesus Hernandez of Kennett Square as he described first hearing the news.
Argentinian nuns organized a group of St. Rocco parishioners rehearsing the Stations of the Cross as churchgoers reacted to the historic news.
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“It’s our turn now,” said Diane Diego of West Grove, with a big smile.
The Catholic Church represents 1.2 billion members worldwide. There are 425 million Catholics in Latin America and the Caribbean, according the Pew Research Center
. Father Bruce Lewandowski, the vicar for cultural ministries in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, says there are 230,000 Hispanic Catholics in the Achdiocese's five county area.
“He’s not only a symbol of the Latin community but of the world,” said Father Andres Garcia Arambula, who is from Mexico. He encouraged the world to have hope for a new pope and to “pray for him to be a good guide” during mass at St. Rocco Church Wednesday night.
“I’m anxious to know what he has to offer. We expect big things from him. We weren’t surprised, because we knew it could happen,” said Javier Tinoco, 22, of Wilmington.
A group of candles burned brightly with an amber hue in the church foyer. Parishioners hugged each other following mass.
Monsignor Francis Depman described St. Rocco Church as a growing, young Hispanic community in Chester County. The church celebrated 436 baptisms last year, more than any other parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“(The new pope) is a sign of the strength of the church in Latin America. It’s a reality seeing the papacy representing a universal church,” said Depman.
Father Kevin Gallagher of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia reacted to the new pope with "shock-- because he was not a name we expected, and joy-- because he is from the Western hemisphere." Gallagher said 98 percent of Argentinians are Catholic.
Pope Francis chose his name in reverence to St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century Italian preacher who abdicated a life of wealth for a life of poverty. Gallagher said Pope Francis' love for the poor is to be celebrated.
St. Rocco’s 13,000 members are predominately of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. Each week, the church offers six Spanish-speaking services and one bilingual. It’s the first parish designated for Latinos by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Monsignor Depman said the timing of the pope announcement was perfect because the children in Christian education classes were able to see the pope’s first blessing together. He described them as excited and clapping with joy.
"I heard he would ride buses. It's unique and shows how much he cares for the people," said parishioner Johana Guzman.