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Catholics in East Tennessee react to pope selection

11:56 PM, Mar 13, 2013   |    comments
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Daily mass at John XXIII University Parish and Catholic Center

Around the world, Catholics and non-Catholics alike turned their eyes to TV as the new pope and leader of the Catholic church was announced on Wednesday.

Pope Francis, formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was introduced at the Vatican to a waiting crowd of thousands on St. Peter's Square.

Many watched the news from East Tennessee, including a small group of Catholic UT students.

"I was actually over at Starbucks when I got the text about white smoke," said junior Andy Christiansen. "I sprinted down Cumberland Avenue to get here!"

Christiansen joined a small group of students gathered on campus at John XXIII, the University Parish and Catholic Center. After the announcement, he said he has high hopes for the new pope.

"To bring unity to the church," he explained. "It's definitely a time of turmoil and we need a good leader. Hopefully the new pope can bring that."

Most of the students had never heard of Bergoglio, who is from Argentina.

"I knew the cardinals were going to put this to prayer and were going to choose who they believe to be the right person to lead the church," said another student, Jesse Butrum. "I'm happy with the decision they made, even though I don't know anything about this man's personal life, but I know he's going to be a good leader for the Catholic church."

"For some people, it's about who he is, where he's from, what does he think," said Father Charlie Donahue, pastor at John XXII. "But for the students today, even reminding me, it's 'What's he praying? And how is he praying? And what is he calling us to remember?'"

Pope Francis made history with a couple of "firsts." He is the first Jesuit pope, and the first pope from the Americas.

A Latino pope gathered great support from many Spanish-speaking Catholics in East Tennessee.

"At that particular moment, we were all like, wh-wh-what? What's his name?" And when we realized there was someone from Latin America, from South America, I really felt chills through my body and excitement for what that means for my ministry and for the Catholic church," said Lourdes Garza, Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Knoxville Catholic diocese.

"It doesn't matter where he's from, but when you let it set in, then you realize there's a relationship there. There's something you can relate to. And you know the interest of the Spanish speaking Catholics are going to be highlighted somehow, in some different way."

Ricardo Videla is from Argentina, and remembers the pope's leadership during his service there.

"He's a very humble person, he's worked a lot with poverty in Argentina, and I think it's very important to have somebody humble at the head of the church," he said.

Videla and his Spanish wife, Tamara Viega, now live in Knoxville. They say having a pope from their corner of the world brings a great excitement for Spanish-speaking Catholics.

The couple also hope his leadership will guide a church facing many challenges.

"I hope in the future we can address the problems that are keeping many people away church, or practicing the religion," Videla said. "Because we don't want to segregate people that live a different way, and it's not our role to be pointing fingers. We ought to set the example, and lead our lives giving the example, but not try to point fingers."

Like other Catholics around the world, Videla looks forward to learning more about the man who will take the church into the future.

"We're seeing some changes already, and this is a big change."

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