Catholics in Tampa Bay are witnessing history in the making. Bishop Robert Lynch performed Mass at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz Wednesday night, where parishioners said they are ecstatic about the new Pope.
The faithful are hopeful and thrilled that a Spanish-speaker from the western hemisphere has been elected.
Bishop Lynch called the new leader of the Catholic Church the "Chief Shepherd."
"Catholics have a lot to be thankful for," said Lynch, who was all smiles as he led the congregation in a Mass of Thanksgiving. "How lucky we are!"
Bishop Lynch said Catholics were spared a potentially long and bewildering conclave.
"Look favorably on your servant Francis, whom you have sat at the head of your church, as her shepherd," Lynch said, as he asked the congregation to pray for Pope Francis.
He called Francis a Pope of firsts: the first Pope from outside of Europe, the first Spanish-speaking Pope and the first to take the name "Francis."
"I think it's quite appropriate that he took the name Francis, because St. Francis was asked to rebuild the church," said parishioner Lisa Marinik. "So this is just a stunning moment I feel."
"Viva il Papa!," said Grace Barreiro enthusiastically. She said the cardinals in Rome picked a winner. "I am so excited. I cannot believe that we finally have a pope from the Americas, a pope that we can really relate to."
Students at Christ the King Catholic School in Tampa went wild as the curtains parted at the papal loggia at St. Peters in Rome. They were glued to the TV screen as soon as the white smoke appeared.
"I thought it'd be pretty nervous to be on this, and just for him to be speaking to the world, that's pretty difficult to do," said Robert Hales, who is a 7th-grader at CTKS.
"I think it's really cool because I got to see history happen, because it hasn't happened in like a long time, 600 years," said Caroline Kratz, also a 7th-grader at CTKS.
"I'm very excited," said 8th-grader Amelia Balsizer. "I was very nervous for the past week or so, just wondering who it was going to be and how they're going to lead the church."
Students crowded around the screen as Pope Francis asked the world to give him their blessing, before he gave them his. Students at CTKS even had a contest to see who could pick the correct name this new pope would choose.
"They submitted them, if they got it right, they would get 10 points on their next test, bonus points," said Fr. Len Plazewski.
Only one student came up with the correct answer.
"This morning, on my way to school, my dad, he said he thought the name would be Francis and I just went with that, he's a smart guy," said 8th-grader Thomas Bencivenga.
Wednesday night, at churches around the world, people sent the new Pope their prayers.
"I'm gonna pray for him every day," said Connie Sanchez. "Because he does need our prayers, but we also need his."
Another first: the First Reading in the Mass at St. Timothy's Wednesday night was read in Spanish. This had never been done before there, and there were parishioners in tears.
And if you're wondering why we didn't see Pope Francis wearing his miter -- the iconic, pointed hat we are so used to seeing the pope formally wearing -- Bishop Lynch said the pope only wears it during mass.
He says we may see him addressing the worldwide Catholic congregation as the new Archbishop of Rome as soon as March 19th, the Feast Day of St. Joseph.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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