DALLAS — There is a daily Spanish-language Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe in downtown Dallas. And on Wednesday night, there was something different in the air: A new sense of unity and recognition, said Father Rudy Garcia.
"I've gotten phone calls and texts all day from people saying, 'We have a Latin American pope, and how great is that?'" he said, smiling.
There is an immediate kinship, he added, because their language is their leader's language, too.
"Even beyond knowing the man personally, the fact that he would come from Latin America and understand the plight of Spanish-speaking Catholics, that provides a real source of understanding," Father Garcia said.
Dora Lopez is a native of Dallas with a Latino heritage. She answers the phones at the Diocese of Dallas offices.
"I think this is very special for Latinos," she said.
Lopez watched in disbelief as a cardinal from Argentina was selected to be the next pope. She called her daughters to tell them as soon as she heard the news.
"It kind of gave me chills; then I heard the bells in the background from the church across the street," Lopez said.
Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell praised Pope Francis for his reputation as a humble, simple priest who is a champion of the poor. While he never met him in person, he said the Argentinian's selection was a surprising choice because he is an outsider at the Vatican.
University of Dallas School of Ministry Director of Continuing Education Pia Septien said the choice of this pope is momentous for more than just those with Hispanic heritage.
"Remember, he's not only from Latin America... he is the first pope from the Americas!" she said with enthusiasm.
Septien believes Pope Francis will be a unifier, and she said the diverse crowd in St. Peter's Square proved the Catholic church is universal.
"All colors, all races, all ages," she said. "That speaks about the church."
Father Garcia added that the choice of Pope Francis was "an indication of how the faith is growing and spreading in all of the Americas."
He called it an acknowledgement that the church can never be confined to one particular place.