Skip to main content

First Latin American pope 'very exciting,' faithful say

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 1:25 PM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
Before becoming Pope Francis, he was Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires. The announcement for the selection of a new pope came on Wednesday, March 13, the first full day of the cardinals' conclave in the Sistine Chapel. Before becoming Pope Francis, he was Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires. The announcement for the selection of a new pope came on Wednesday, March 13, the first full day of the cardinals' conclave in the Sistine Chapel.
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
  • "Today is a historic day," Argentina's president says
  • Priest: The pope's past as the son of immigrants could resonate with Latinos
  • Mexican bishops say his selection is "a sign of love" for Latin American churches
  • Pope Francis is the first pope from Latin America

(CNN) -- Catholic faithful from Latin America cheered the historic election of the first pope from the region Wednesday.

Crowds swarmed outside the metropolitan cathedral in Buenos Aires, chanting as they waved Argentine flags. Smiling immigrants and tourists praised the news on the steps of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Pilgrims at Mexico City's Basilica of Guadalupe said they were thrilled.

Even though about 480 million of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live in Latin America, for centuries, the church's top job has gone to Europeans.

That changed with the announcement that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, would become the new pontiff. Bergoglio, 76, chose the name Pope Francis.

"I felt like crying. I felt great excitement. It is a blessing from God," said Ines Ambrosi, who spoke to CNN en Español outside New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral shortly after the news was announced. "In Latin America there are millions of Catholics and truly it has been a bit forgotten by the church. Now we feel very represented, and proud."

New pope adopts the name Francis

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner -- whose government has sparred with Bergoglio in the past -- sent a letter congratulating him as he assumed his new role.

"Today is a historic day. ... For the first time in 2,000 years of the church there is going to be a pope that comes from Latin America," she said later at an event broadcast on public television. "And from our hearts we wish for Francis that he can accomplish a greater degree of fraternity between peoples and religions."

Talk Back: What kind of spiritual leader will draw people back to organized religion?

Argentine Martin Watson compared the new pope to another kind of celebration that has historically been far more common in his country.

"The news, for us, was almost like winning the World Cup in soccer," he said.

But he added that the papal pick goes beyond national pride.

"For Latin America, it will be a great change. More eyes will be focused on our region, and maybe we'll have more support for our region," he said. "We have a lot of needs. We have more than 50% in each country of the region (that) are very poor. That would be a great help for them."

5 things to know about the new pope

Excitement spreads beyond Argentina

Mexico's Catholic bishops released a statement praising the news.

"For the churches that are pilgrims in Latin America, it is the cause of great joy," the statement said. "For the Mexican church, it is a clear sign of love for the churches that are pilgrims in these lands."

Latin American catholics: So proud, happy

In St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, a woman from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, told CNN's Anderson Cooper she was overcome with emotion.

"I feel that Mexico has been a country that has suffered a lot, and so has Latin America, but it is a people that has always put trust in God," she said, "so it is absolutely wonderful to represent our part of the world this time around."

Beside her, a woman from Mexico City said her heart jumped when she heard the announcement that a pope had been picked.

A look at the life of Cardinal Bergoglio

"I'm so excited," she said. "It's a reason of being proud tonight, because Latin America is a very important Catholic area and now it's going to be totally represented here, so I'm so proud and I'm so happy today. ... It's going to help a lot, a Latin American pope, it's going to help. It's going to rebuild many things, and it's a new start."

In Brazil, the secretary-general of the country's Council of Bishops said he and many others were surprised, but happy, that Bergoglio was chosen.

"It is a very beautiful sign that the cardinals gave us by electing a Latin American cardinal, now our Pope Francis," said Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, according to state-run Agencia Brasil. "It shows that the church is truly universal."

In Venezuela, interim leader Nicolas Maduro suggested the late President Hugo Chavez -- who died last week -- could have influenced the church's historic move.

"We know that our commander ascended to those heights," Maduro said in remarks broadcast on state-run VTV. "He is face to face with Christ. He influenced something. ... Some new hand arrived, and Christ said, well, the new hour of South America has arrived."

Before Wednesday's announcement, speculation had surged that the church might select its first non-European pope of the modern era.

What's in a name?

"It would be an enormous gesture to name a Latin American pope," Virginia Garrard-Burnett, a professor of history and religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin, said earlier this week.

Because Catholicism is losing ground in the region, a pope from there could be a boost for the faith, she said.

Priest: Pope gives hope and pride to U.S. Latinos

The pick is also good news for Catholic Latinos in the United States, said the Rev. Juan J. Molina, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops associate director for the church in Latin America.

"He is also the son of migrants. And for us, Hispanics in the United States, this is very important. ... I think that this topic of migration is going to be very important for him," Molina told CNN en Español. "And we, the Hispanics, the Latinos that now live in the United States ... we can also take some hope and pride that this pope intimately knows and has deeply lived the life of a migrant."

New pope's name choice 'precedent shattering'

Bergoglio's selection also sends a significant message throughout Latin America, Molina said, where the Catholic faith has had a strong presence for centuries.

"The election of a Latin American pope demonstrates that we are now empowered with this faith," Molina said. "The church in Latin America is a mature church."

Even the new pope himself alluded to the fact that the church had reached farther than ever for its papal pick.

In his first speech from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, he quipped Wednesday that cardinals had gone to "the end of the world" to find him.

CNN's Mariano Castillo and Marysabel Huston-Crespo in Atlanta, CNNMexico and Rey Rodriguez in Mexico City, Jose Manuel Rodriguez in Buenos Aires, Juan Carlos Lopez in Washington and Rafael Fuenmayor in New York contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:39 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
According to widely cited Italian media reports, Pope Francis recently told a young boy grieving the loss of a pet dog that "paradise is open to all God's creatures."
updated 11:59 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Pope Francis said that modern slavery is a "crime against humanity" and is "unfortunately becoming worse and worse every day."
updated 5:31 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
Pope Francis is to make his first trip to the United States as the head of the Catholic Church next September.
A Vatican report says the church should welcome and appreciate gays, and offers a solution for divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion.
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Using his strongest language to date, Pope Francis told Italian Mafia members that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
"Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise," Pope Francis said.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
No topic has been off limits for Pope Francis so far.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Sat June 14, 2014
Pope Francis prefers not to use a bulletproof Popemobile because it is a glass "sardine can" that walls him off from people.
updated 12:58 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres committed themselves to the quest for peace with Pope Francis.
updated 2:46 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
As the Holy Land prepares for a papal visit, Ivan Watson speaks to the man preparing to honor the pontiff with his food.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Not a jot of doctrine has changed in the year since Francis became Pope. But there's more than one way to measure his impact.
updated 10:01 AM EST, Sat February 22, 2014
Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals in a ceremony in the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica -- the first such appointments since he was elected pontiff.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
"The spring evening in which Pope Francis was elected is an apt symbol of the beginning of his papacy and the years that will follow," writes a priest.
updated 11:05 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
In a gesture towards Valentine's Day, Pope Francis gave his advice on how to have a happy marriage before thousands of couples.
updated 4:10 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Take a look at Pope Francis' first year in photos with our gallery.
updated 6:43 PM EST, Thu November 7, 2013
It was the embrace that melted hearts worldwide.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed April 3, 2013
On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis kisses and hugs disabled boy lifted up in the crowd.
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
With the new pope himself a trained scientist, could the timing could be right for a new era of cooperation between the Vatican and science?
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sat March 16, 2013
Pope Francis is being painted as a humble and simple man, but his past is tinged with controversy.