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The new pope: Cheers in L.A. for first Latin American pontiff

March 13, 2013 |  1:00 pm

As an Argentine cardinal was introduced in Vatican City as Pope Francis I, one Cypress Park priest celebrated the first pontiff from the Americas, calling it a historic moment.

Father Marco Ortiz was visiting a family earlier Wednesday when he got a text from another priest that read: "There's white smoke." Ortiz ran back to the Divine Saviour Catholic Church in Cypress Park, where he watched reports from Vatican City naming Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the next pontiff.

"This is history," Ortiz said.

FULL COVERAGE: The papal conclave

When Bergoglio emerged onto a balcony at St. Peter's Basilica as Pope Francis I, Ortiz clasped his hands together.

"It's happening now," he said. "Oh, it's happening now."

Ortiz said the selection of a non-European as the 266th pope "says a lot about the openness of the church and the movement of the Holy Spirit."

PHOTOS: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio elected pope

"Europe is going through a lot of crisis regarding our faith, and what's saved the church are the Americas," he said.

Francis, 76, succeeds Benedict XVI as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. Benedict stunned the church when he stepped down last month, becoming the first pontiff to do so in six centuries.

White smoke signaling a decision had been made poured out of the Sistine Chapel shortly after 11 a.m. PDT, prompting pealing bells and celebratory Masses at churches across Southern California.

PHOTOS: A new pope is chosen

Marie Lopez of Alhambra took a break from work to come to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles after she heard the bells. She's been praying for the cardinals since the conclave began, she said.

"It's so exciting to hear the bells," she said. "I haven't stopped smiling."

At the church, bells pealed as workers hung yellow and white bunting -- the colors of the Vatican City -- over the main entrance. A special Mass began shortly after noon.

INTERACTIVE: Choosing a new pope

In Little Saigon, Hung Nguyen said he had been reading French newspapers online to brush up on popes of centuries past, learning how their personal touches affected the course of Catholic history.

Nguyen said he was interested to see which direction the new pontiff might lead the church considering the recent problems it had seen.

"What concerns me is if he will follow the direction of the previous pope — what kind of changes he will enact in the future when it comes to internal corruption and the deep sexual abuse," Nguyen said. "I care about this because look at the dwindling numbers of Catholics in Europe, look at the poverty and social issues in Latin America. We need guidance."

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— Marisa Gerber, Cindy Chang, Anh Do and Kate Mather

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