At a noontime Mass at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, the priest told parishioners the selection of Pope Francis provided a moment of jubilation for the church during an otherwise precarious time.
"This is why we are rejoicing," Father Thai Trinh said in his homily before the few dozen congregants. "Our Lord is at work."
Trinh then asked the congregation to pray for the new pontiff so that he might serve "with great humility, great love and also with great courage as he guides the church through the stormy waters of our time."
The rector of the cathedral, Msgr. Doug Cook, said the church now has an opportunity to embrace more tightly its far-flung but growing and devout Spanish-speaking followers.
"It's a way of connecting with a very vibrant, unique part of the Catholic world,” he said, referring to Francis’ Argentine roots.
"He seems young, he seems personable -- has a heart that wants to connect with people," Cook said.
Parishioner Arturo Ramirez, 50, said the selection was a sign that the church was reaching out to its worldwide followers, especially the Latin communities.
The Anaheim resident was especially excited by the choosing of the name Francis, anticipating that it was an homage to St. Francis of Assisi, a progressive and unifying figure.
Ramirez also said he hopes the new pope will be strong enough to push for progress. "Someone who's willing to say, 'Look, this is where we made our mistakes and this is how we'll correct them,'" he said. "Someone who will show strength and accountability."
Leaving the Mass with her young daughter, Andrea Rivera, 40, said she, too, had prayed for Francis’ strength. A Latin pope who speaks Spanish meant less to her than the need for a leader who has "a strong spirit and [will] work the way God wants him to work for us."
This story was reported by Times Staff Writer Rick Rojas.