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updated: 3/19/2013 1:08 PM

Latino Catholics eye new pope with excitement

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  • Linda Fernandez, left, of West Chicago, and Gabriela Vargas, of Glendale Heights, share what Pope Francis means to them and the Hispanic community at St. Mary's Parish in West Chicago.

       Linda Fernandez, left, of West Chicago, and Gabriela Vargas, of Glendale Heights, share what Pope Francis means to them and the Hispanic community at St. Mary's Parish in West Chicago.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • A display board featuring Pope Francis stands on the altar at St. Mary's Parish in West Chicago on Sunday. The parish's large Latino population is excited about the new pope's Latin American background.

       A display board featuring Pope Francis stands on the altar at St. Mary's Parish in West Chicago on Sunday. The parish's large Latino population is excited about the new pope's Latin American background.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The Rev. John Balluff talks about what Pope Francis means to Hispanic parishioners at St. Mary's Parish in West Chicago. The parish's large Latino population is excited about the new pope's Latin American background.

       The Rev. John Balluff talks about what Pope Francis means to Hispanic parishioners at St. Mary's Parish in West Chicago. The parish's large Latino population is excited about the new pope's Latin American background.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Deacon Luis Saltigerald talks about Pope Francis before a Spanish service starts at St. Mary's Church in West Chicago on Sunday. The parish's large Latino population is excited about the new pope's Latin American background.

       Deacon Luis Saltigerald talks about Pope Francis before a Spanish service starts at St. Mary's Church in West Chicago on Sunday. The parish's large Latino population is excited about the new pope's Latin American background.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Pope Francis is featured on the weekly bulletin at St. Mary's Parish in West Chicago. The parish's large Latino population is excited about the new pope's Latin American background.

       Pope Francis is featured on the weekly bulletin at St. Mary's Parish in West Chicago. The parish's large Latino population is excited about the new pope's Latin American background.
    photos by Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 

The majority of the congregation at St. Mary's Catholic Parish in West Chicago is Mexican. For them, enthusiasm over the new pope stretches beyond the fact he comes from Latin America.

The Rev. John Balluff, senior pastor at St. Mary's, said many in his church are there because their ancestors were evangelized by the followers of St. Francis of Assisi -- the saint after which former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Argentina, chose his name once elected pope last week.

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"The name is very important to us," Balluff said, adding that the current pope's commitment to the poor strikes a chord in West Chicago's working class community. "His work with the poor adds depth to his traditional teaching."

Congregants packed St. Mary's Sunday for the first Mass since Pope Francis was chosen to lead the Catholic church. The week's bulletin featured Francis' smiling face, as did a banner at the front of the church.

Gabriela Vargas, of Glendale Heights, who attended the service Sunday, said the conclave's choice of Francis was a surprise and a joy. He is the first pope from the Americas and the first non-European in more than 1,000 years.

His election comes at a time when Latinos represent a large and growing segment of Catholics worldwide.

"I hope that the faith of the Hispanic community grows now that we have a Latin American pope," she said.

Vargas said she appreciates Francis' humility and plans to keep him in her prayers in hopes he will bring important changes to the church.

Luis Saltigerald, a St. Mary's deacon from Carol Stream, echoed a desire for strength from a pope many are watching to see how he deals with sex scandals that have plagued the church for years.

While Saltigerald hasn't formed an opinion about the new pope, he finds the connection to St. Francis to be an interesting one for more than the saint's commitment to the poor. St. Francis lived in the 12th century, Saltigerald said, when the church was plagued with corruption and appeared to be falling apart.

"That's what's happening now," Saltigerald said. "We need someone to bring it back up."

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