Carmen Snow, of Edmond, said she was “overjoyed” to learn that the new pontiff for the Roman Catholic Church shares her Latin American heritage.
“This is incredible news. He is one of us,” Snow, a native of Bolivia, said Wednesday.
The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the new leader of 1.2 billion Catholics came as a pleasant surprise, several Oklahoma Catholic leaders said. However, they said the historic choice made sense for many reasons, particularly the spread of Catholicism in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
“The cardinals have delivered a wonderful surprise to the world by choosing a pope from Latin America, a part of the world where the Catholic Church is strong and committed to the New Evangelization,” the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, said Wednesday.
Pedro A. Moreno Garcia, the archdiocese's director of Hispanic Ministry, said Catholics all over the world were rejoicing over the election of the new pope, and added many Latinos are excited to have a pontiff who shares their culture.
“The Latino community — we're going to party,” Garcia said.
“It will be just like the Germans celebrated when Cardinal Ratzinger became pope (Benedict) and how the Polish celebrated when John Paul (II) became pope, but we can't lose sight of the fact that he is the pope for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Rita Holder, of Oklahoma City, experienced the historic moment at St. Peter's Square firsthand Wednesday.
In a telephone interview, Holder said she and her family are in Rome because her granddaughter's school choir from Dallas is performing there. She said she and her family missed seeing the white smoke coming out of the Sistine Chapel chimney indicating that a pope had been elected.
However, she said the family took a taxi to St. Peter's Square in Vatican City and joined the huge crowd gathered there to wait for the new pope's first greeting to the world.
“It was fantastic,” she said.
“It was wonderful to see the pope come out. We're just so happy to have a pope.”
Coakley said Bergoglio, who will be called Pope Francis, is a Jesuit who has lived a simple personal lifestyle. He said as an Argentine cardinal, Bergoglio chose to live in a simple apartment and ride public transportation in lieu of fancier accoutrements.
Garcia, a native of New York who is of Puerto Rican descent, said Bergoglio is a “powerhouse of a man — not in stature, but in his strength in proclaiming the message of Christ.”
Garcia said the new pope is not known for “watering down God's Word. He calls a spade a spade.”
Garcia said he thinks all Latinos will experience a sense of identifying with the new pontiff because of the papal leader's shared roots.
“He identifies with us. He understands our struggles and our fears,” Garcia said.
Garcia said Catholicism's spread in several non-European areas made the choice of a Latin American pope less shocking. He said he also noticed that Pope Benedict XVI appointed many Latin American clergy leaders as cardinals, seeming to “stack the deck” in favor of a papal leader from outside Europe.
Snow, a schoolteacher who is director of Hispanic Ministry at Edmond's St. Monica Catholic Church, said she had not heard much about Bergoglio on Wednesday but she thinks that he will have a particular compassion for the poor and needy.
“Just the fact that he is from the Southern Hemisphere where many countries are Third World countries, he is, I'm sure, in touch with the needs of the people who live on the edge, who are marginalized,” she said.
“This is just incredible news. Our Holy Father is our Papa.”
The Rev. Roberto Quant, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, shared similar sentiments. Quant, who is of Chinese and Nicaraguan descent, leads the church with the largest Hispanic population in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
He said his parishioners are certain to be excited about the new pope from Argentina.
“This shows that we have wonderful gifts in the New World — we have wonderful leaders — leaders who are gifts to the church,” Quant said.