Local Catholics celebrate, pray for Pope Francis

7:19 AM, Mar 14, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Local reaction of Pope Francis

Pope Francis (AP image)

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- The head of the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids says the election of Pope Francis took him by surprise, just as the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI did.

Bishop Walter Hurley says the new pope reflects the church's changing demographic, with more followers outside Europe. Pope Francis is Latin American pope selected to lead the church.

"We're not speaking about a European church anymore. It is a global church," says Bishop Walter Hurley. "New beginnings are always exciting for everyone, so we're looking forward to it and we pray for him because the job he has is just an incredibly large one."

Pope Francis received the second largest amount of votes when Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005. Bishop Hurley says his name choice is also significant since Saint Francis was an extremely humble person who was deeply concerned about the poor.

As soon as Pope Francis was picked Wednesday afternoon, bells began tolling at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew. One teacher for Catholic Central High School says students stayed after class just to see the new pope meet the masses for the first time.

"It's an exciting time for them," says Mike Jacob. "We just know there's a lot of challenges the church faces and we're excited and anxious at the same time."

Mike Couch, a non-Catholic says he is praying for Pope Francis. "I hope that (he) brings more peace around the world. We've got a lot of stuff going on now and we need help. Prayer will help."

The first Latin American pope is being seen as a blessing to many in Grand Rapids' growing Hispanic community.

At The Shrine of Saint Francis Xavier and Our Lady of Guadalupe, 80 percent of parishioners speak Spanish and the number of attendees keep growing. Church leaders say now the new pope shares their language and culture, it could grow even bigger.

"In Catholic church, you can expect the unexpected," says Father Jose Quintana. "It's a sign that things are changing."

Father Quintana says he can't wait to see how many people will fill the pews this Sunday for mass, with services in English and Spanish. Wednesday night, he was already practicing the change to his weekly message.

Another popular phrase heard around the Shrine at Saint Frances Xavier and Our Lady of Guadalupe: "Tenemos un papa de Argentina!" (We have a pope from Argentina!)

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