Nelson Ramirez of Denison and his daughter, Yizmeray, 8, pray for Pope Francis Thursday night at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.
Nelson Ramirez of Denison and his daughter, Yizmeray, 8, pray for Pope Francis Thursday night at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.
March 15, 2013


Jose Acosta's workday flowed along like any other. Then the news broke across the world Wednesday of a new pope - Francis, the former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Acosta heard the initial reports in English - his second language - at Farmland Foods in Denison.

"I didn't believe it," Acosta, 50, said after Mass at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Denison. "But I went home and confirmed that it was true. The news was coming in English, and I don't speak English, so I wasn't understanding very good what I was hearing."

But when Francis speaks there is no such issue for Acosta - and tens of millions of other Latinos.

Acosta was one of about 100 Latinos who gathered for a Spanish-language Mass at the Denison Church Thursday night - the first service there since the 115 voting cardinals selected Pope Francis, who served as a cardinal in Buenos Aires and is known for his commitment to the poor. As a cardinal, a prince of the church, Francis still dressed as a priest, and asked to be called "Father Jorge" - not "Your Eminence."

"I see that he is very humble," said Nelson Ramirez, 33, of Denison. "He comes from parents who are immigrants."

Francis grew up in Buenos Aires, a son of Italian immigrants. He is the first pontiff from Latin America.

"I never thought that we were going to have a Latino pope," said Ramirez, a native of Honduras.

The selection is a major boost to Latino Catholics, said members of St. Rose of Lima.

"I feel very proud because he is Latino, and he can understand us, our culture a lot more, and our ideas," said Adolfo Vargas, 36, of Denison.

Teresa Baltazar, 44, of Denison, seized on Francis's biography as well.

"We are more happy because he is Latino, and it looks like he likes the social justice in the church," Baltzar said. "It seems like he will work better in the church doctrines."

Her husband, Isidro Baltazar, 50, is optimistic about the future of the church under Francis.

"It's beautiful that he speaks our language," he said. "I think that he's going to fix a lot of things in the church. It seems like he is very conservative and that is going to fix mistakes some priests make in the church. He has a really good plan to develop the church."

About 40 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics are Latino. The fact that Spanish is the pope's first language is a major point of connectivity, Latinos at St. Rose of Lima said.

"I can understand every single thing that he says," Isidro Baltazar said.

Maria Escobar, 58, of Denison, said the selection moved her as much as the one of Pope John Paul II.

"The Holy Spirit and God sent this pope to us," she said. "I believe in him, because for some reason, I really feel this decision - and you know what, many friends of mine, they say the same thing. When they found out he is going to be the pope, they feel a lot of emotions also."

She added, "I think the whole world has a lot of hope."

During Mass, Father Paul Kelly, pastor at St. Rose of Lima, called for prayers for Francis.

"It's a pope who understands the Latino culture." Kelly said. "His first language is Spanish. This is something beautiful, that he's Latino."

In Carroll, Father Tim Johnson of Holy Spirit Parish said he is thrilled with the selection.

"I was elated to have an individual from Latin America and also one who is pastoral," Johnson said.

Johnson said he is encouraged by Francis's humble approach to life - cooking alone, living in an apartment, rather than in luxury.

"I believe this presence will have a great effect on Catholic faithful and also those others around the world seeking a presence of Christ," Johnson said. "I believe he will be a gift and is a gift."