SoCal Catholics rejoice with election of Pope Francis


Watch Pope Francis' first speech to the faithful on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica

Bells sounded at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles when the announcement was made Wednesday morning. At noon mass, Archbishop Jose Gomez waited until his sermon to make the big announcement. Several hundred people were in the pews, an especially large crowd for a weekday service.

"The archbishop announced it, and I was very undignified," said Joella Merten of Arcadia with a laugh.

Merten was downtown near the cathedral and decided to stop by for mass, not knowing a new pope had been elected.

See the moment white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel chimney

"I happened to be on jury duty, a little begrudgingly, but as it turned out, I was in the right place at the right time," she said. "I'm thrilled to death."

Danny Gutierrez and his wife of La Puente heard of the new pope on the radio and couldn't get to the cathedral fast enough with their 18-day-old daughter Abigail in tow.

"We rushed over here as safely as we could to be part of this historic day," Gutierrez said. "This was her first mass, and having the pope announced during this mass I think was special and something that we can hopefully tell her about as she gets older."

Hear ABC7's David Ono describe the moment the election of a new pope was announced

The service was a historic moment for Los Angeles' Latin community. Pope Francis is the first Latin American chosen to lead the church, and he takes the helm during some stormy times for Catholicism. In the Inland Empire, where there are a number of Hispanic residents, the news is exciting.

""As a Catholic, I am hopeful he will visit the states and my country of Mexico," Trecliano De Santiago said in Spanish.

At Lala's Argentine Grill on Melrose Avenue, customers raised a toast to the new leader of the Catholic Church. The popular restaurant is co-owned by Horacio Weschler, who moved to Los Angeles from his native Argentina in 1988.

"It was definitely a big surprise. Nobody was talking about an Argentine pope," Weschler said.

Weschler says he has followed closely the life and career of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis.

"So far, he's been wonderful in our country, but now he's going to be at the Vatican," Weschler said. "There's going to be a lot of pressure ... so we have to see how he develops there."

But not everyone is excited about the new pope, who is known for his traditional approach to Catholicism.

"He's very critical about gay marriage, and I hope he will have a different tone regarding gay marriage because I myself am gay, and I'm a devout Catholic," said Francis Arches of San Bernardino.

At Saint Charles Borromeo in North Hollywood, the church of embattled Cardinal Roger Mahony, parishioners say they hope Pope Francis will revive the church's core values.

"We've had such a travesty to deal with all the abuse and scandal issues in the church, I think it's now time to really take a foot forward and push positively toward a new doctrine," said parishioner Michael Conley.

At Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Covina, evening mass took on a special significance as Catholics around the world celebrate their new pope.

"He's a man committed to the poor, a man with great compassion for those who are unfortunate in life," said Father William Eastering.

Father Vince Hughes of St. Francis of Assisi church in Silver Lake says the pope's name is fitting.

"Francis was a reformer of making people aware of the poor, but I think just the name Francis alone shows a change, a breath of fresh air," he said.

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