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L.A. Latinos praise Spanish-speaking, Latin American pope

March 13, 2013 |  1:52 pm

The selection of Pope Francis I resonated across Southern California as Spanish-speaking Catholics said they were especially pleased to hear a Latin American pontiff would lead the church for the first time.

Parishioners gathered for noon Mass at St. Emydius Catholic Church in Lynwood said they clapped when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's name was announced but clapped even louder when they heard he was from Argentina.

"I'm very pleased with a Latino," said Maria Ramirez, 65, who is originally from Mexico. "It's possible that he will understand other Latinos better."

PHOTOS: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio elected pope

"As the pope, he is the pope to the whole world, but I'm very pleased that he's from Latin America," she said in Spanish.

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.

Francis is the first pontiff from the Americas and the first non-European pope selected in more than a millennium.

FULL COVERAGE: The papal conclave

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.

At a celebratory Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, where workers hung yellow-and-white bunting after the announcement was made, Archbishop Jose Gomez noted the new pontiff was the first chosen from the Americas.

"It really shows the importance of all of us in this continent as part of the universal church," he told parishioners.

INTERACTIVE: Choosing a new pope

Taco shop owner Maria Morales, 52, said she thought the selection could break from history — but the Guatemalan immigrant thought the pope would be African.

Hours later, she was surprised and exhilarated that a Latin American had ascended to pontiff.

"It's excellent that a Latino has made it so far," Morales said. "One always wants one's Hispanic community to go as far as we can. I'm very happy we have a Latino pope."

In Cypress Park, Rev. Marco Ortiz, who is Mexican and whose congregants are mostly Spanish-speakers, watched as Bergoglio’s named flashed across his television screen.

Ortiz's mouth dropped open. He whispered to himself: "Wow." 

"This is history," Ortiz said.  "I think the impact will be enormous, enormous."

Salvador Perez, a 65-year-old car mechanic who immigrated from Mexico City, said he doesn't go to Mass often but has been praying for the new pope all week.

"I am happy," he said at the news of a Spanish-speaking pope. "This is a big deal. I think the people will relate better."

Although he's happy, he would have been fine with anybody the leaders chose, he said, pointing to a sign tacked to the window of his Cypress Park apartment. It reads: "Este hogar es catolico" or "This home is Catholic."

"The pope needs respect," Perez said. "He's a big man."

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— Christine Mai-Duc, Cindy Chang, Hector Becerra, Marisa Gerber and Kate Mather

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