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Local Latinos rejoice over Argentine Pope

‘Historic moment’ catches many Catholics by surprise

Father-Juan-Francisco-Molina

'The reality is that as a culture, Latin America plays a significant role in the Catholic Church,' says Father Juan Francisco Molina, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul.

THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
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The surprise selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the new pope was greeted with an outpouring of excitement from many Latino Catholics in the Toledo area Wednesday afternoon.

The Rev. Juan Francisco Molina, pastor at SS. Peter & Paul Parish on Toledo’s south side, called the selection of the church’s first Latin Pope “a historic moment for the Catholic Church.”

“We always have a pope from Europe, but not from Latin America,” Father Molina said. “The reality is that as a culture, Latin America plays a significant role in the Catholic Church.”

Usevio Torres, 41, a SS. Peter & Paul parishioner from Toledo, said excited friends and family members were calling and texting him all afternoon to share news of the new Pope.

“People have been texting me, ‘We have a Latin pope, we have a Latin pope,’ ” Mr. Torres said. “I think everyone is surprised.”

Father Molina noted that Cardinal Bergoglio — who has chosen the papal name of Francis — had been the second highest vote-getter when Pope Benedict XVI was selected in 2005.

Church Deacon Jose Romo, 81, of Maumee said he had watched television almost nonstop for the past several days waiting for word of the new Pope.

“It’s a very special day; it’s the first time we’ve had a Latino pope,” Mr. Romo said. “It’s a great feeling to know that people are united; the whole world has been asking God to bless us with a strong leader for Christ.”

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Mr. Torres said he hopes the new Pope can inspire Latino Catholics to become more involved in the church.

SS. Peter & Paul draws more than 350 people to its weekly Spanish Masses, Father Molina said. But he and Mr. Torres agree that in recent years, Latino parishioners have continued to leave the church — a trend reflected throughout the United States.

Some people have left because of the many scandals and controversies that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church in recent years, Mr. Torres and Father Molina said. Others have turned away because they don’t feel the church is meeting their needs.

“Many are leaving to be part of evangelical churches,” Father Molina said. “That is a big challenge that must be addressed.”

Parishioner Tonya Duran, 44, said initially that she didn’t believe the news was true.

Although she’s proud that a Latin American has been selected as the new Pope, she worries that he is taking over at a time of great crisis for the church.

“I’m hoping the Catholic Diocese doesn’t make him a scapegoat,” Ms. Duran said. “On the other hand, if we can have a Latin pope, maybe it’s time for a Latino president in the U.S.”

Contact Federico Martinez at fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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