Selection Of Pope Francis Energizes U.S. Catholics

Across the country, Catholics were surprised and happy about the selection of Francis as pope. In Miami, many Catholics are looking to Francis to bring about some positive changes.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The new pope's choice of the name Francis solves one problem, which is how to pronounce his old name.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

As a man whose parents emigrated from Italy, he has an Italian name, there pronounced Bergolio.

INSKEEP: But in Argentina, people commonly pronounce it Bergoglio.

MONTAGNE: No matter how they pronounce his name, American Catholics say they were surprised and happy with the choice.

INSKEEP: From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports many Catholics are looking to Francis for positive change.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: At St. Catherine of Siena Church in Miami, it was a special day, even before the new Pope was chosen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVE MARIA")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Ave, ave, ave Maria.

ALLEN: Yesterday evening, the church was packed, standing-room only for a mass to welcome a traveling shrine commemorating Our Lady of Fatima.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

FATHER ALEJANDRO RODRIGUEZ: Habemus Papam.

ALLEN: Father Alejandro Rodriguez echoed an announcement made just a few hours earlier at the Vatican: the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope - in Father Rodriguez's words, a momentous occasion.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

RODRIGUEZ: Well, we know that through the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the protection of our blessed mother, Pope Francis I will lead us to the light and truth of Christ our savior.

ALLEN: Masses here are bilingual, and parishioners are from Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil, among other countries. Adriana Sirven said she was most surprised by the new pope's name.

ADRIANA SIRVEN: I'm actually really excited that he chose Francis as his name, because he's one of my favorite saints. And I couldn't believe that he's the first Pope Francis.

ALLEN: Reinaldo Almeida notes that the new pope appears to have named himself after Francis of Assisi, a saint known for his humility and work as a missionary.

REINALDO ALMEIDA: His humble attitude, his submission of his desire, you know, to go the poor and to take the word of the Lord to the poor. So I think Francis was a nice choice for his name. And he gives us a message with that.

ALLEN: Across the country yesterday, Catholics waited for the news, including Tony Kriz Marik, a 27-year-old studying theology at Boston College.

TONY KRIZ MARIK: You know, I'm sitting in class, and then suddenly we get this pope alarm.

ALLEN: Kriz Marik says one of his roommates even started a pool.

MARIK: They had this whole thing you could fill out, like, what country is he going to be from, like, which guy is it going to be, and what continent is he going to be from and, you know, what name is he going to choose - all these different things.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS)

ALLEN: At the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, people gathered to await the news, which was announced with the ringing of the bell. Maria Cortijo came out of the cathedral crying tears of joy.

MARIA CORTIJO: I am so emotional, I cannot talk. Thanks, Lord. I am so - I can't believe this. Very happy. I'm Catholic, and I thank the Lord that we have a new one.

ALLEN: Maryanne Zoretic was also at Holy Name Cathedral yesterday. She's Croatian and Catholic.

MARYANNE ZORETIC: Yeah, but I'm sure he's going to do better, and I hope so. I'm so glad that's he's won. So I'm going to pray for him, and for all of us.

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEN: Near Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount University is a Jesuit School. Students are happy that for the first time, a Jesuit has been chosen Pope. Still, senior Emily Callas says with all the challenges facing the church, she's not sure how Francis will do.

EMILY CALLAS: It's really up to what he does his entire term, but also, like, within these next few months. So I can't say for sure that everything's going to turn around and everything's suddenly going to get better, but hopefully something will get better.

ALLEN: Also at Loyola Marymount, freshman Joaquin Loustau is from Uruguay, a country next door to Pope Francis' home country of Argentina. In choosing a pope from Latin America, he says the church has begun to recognize where its future lies.

JOAQUIN LOUSTAU: Latin America, Africa and Asia are the new, let's say, centers of the Catholicism and where the new faithful are coming from. So I feel like it was time for Catholics to be represented by someone from their own place.

ALLEN: In many ways, Catholics say, Pope Francis marks the beginning of a new era for their church. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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