Three deer scurried past the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen as Steve Thomas and his wife, Debbie, arrived for Sunday Mass to celebrate the new spiritual leader for Roman Catholics worldwide, Pope Francis.
The symbolism struck the Arbutus man, who said the recently elected pontiff sent a message to the faithful in his choice to take the name of the 12th century saint Francis of Assisi, known for his love of animals and for embracing a life of poverty.
"We need to get back to basics," said Thomas, master of the Maryland district for the Knights of Columbus. "We need someone to get the rest of the world back to moral standards."
Under Francis, Thomas said, it's his hope the church, especially in America, will uphold traditional and conservative values.
The couple were among roughly 1,800 in attendance for the Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who incorporated Latin American elements into the service, including festive music and a reading in Spanish, as a tribute to the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a native of Argentina who last week became the church's first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years.
Lori said Francis draws on the strength of Christ to speak out on behalf of unborn children, to uphold traditional families, to serve the poor and to defend the oppressed. Catholics should heed his example, he said.
"Dear friends, let us offer Pope Francis our love and our loyalty first and foremost by responding to the insistent call of the church this Lent and every Lent: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel,'" Lori said during his 18-minute homily.
In this way, Lori said, Catholics can, "stand side by side in defense of human dignity, stoop down with him in serving the defenseless and poor in charity, and work [with] him day by day in rebuilding the church through the works of the new evangelization."
With his election last week by the College of Cardinals, Francis became the first pontiff from the Western Hemisphere and the first Jesuit to lead the church. He succeeds Benedict XVI, who resigned the position last month.
Lori noted several acquaintances who attest to Francis' humility and dedication to prayer, and his commitment to Christ.
"After an hour-long conversation marked by candor and good humor, then-Cardinal Bergoglio clasped my friend's hand, looked him in the eye, and said: 'Please pray for me!' And my friend knew that he truly meant it," Lori told those gathered.
"So when Pope Francis stood before the crowd in St. Peter's and asked them and all of us to pray for him, he was doing what he had always done: He really is asking us to pray for him."
Becky Simpson of Millersville said the pope's introduction to the world on the balcony overlooking the masses at St. Peter's Square in Rome was endearing.
Simpson — whose 17-year-old son John Patrick gave the second reading — said Sunday's Mass was a chance for Catholics to reflect on the future of the church. Francis stands for the principles of the faith, she said.
"It feels like there's hope — we have hope now," said Simpson, overcome with emotion. "He loves the poor. He is the essence of what we're supposed to be as Catholics, which is simple and Christlike. He exemplifies Jesus."
To local seminarians Jorge Ramirez and Joseph Raborg, the election of Francis is an exciting time for the church. They were among more than 200 seminarians, acolytes and visiting bishops and priests who attended the Mass.
"With any new pope, we're going to have a great change," said Ramirez, originally from Colombia. "I hope that he can remind people about humility, service, working for the poor, human rights."
Raborg, a native of New Jersey, said the pope's commitment to poverty is an inspiration to him.
"He's a man of the people," Raborg said. "That's probably what I liked about him right off the bat."
Seven-year-old Leigh Williams, a second grader at St. Francis of Assisi School, said she, too, has high hopes for Francis.
She also has faith.
"I think he's going to help the whole country," she said.
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