Bishop Stephen Blaire said watching Pope Francis bow and ask for the crowd's blessing was a highlight of the announcement of the new pontiff Wednesday.
"I was quite impressed when he stood there on the (Vatican) balcony and before he gave his blessing, he asked for the blessing of the people," Blaire said. "I was very moved by that."
The bishop was in Sacramento talking with legislators when he saw the news of the new pontiff on TV. With his work in the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the Stockton Diocese, which both include a large percentage of Latino parishioners, Blaire said it is significant that Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) comes from Argentina and speaks Spanish fluently.
"I think it's significant that he comes from Latin America ... that he comes from a part of the world that is very largely Catholic," Blaire said.
And he approves of the pope taking the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. "It appears he lives a very simple life, in the way of St. Francis, and that is an important message for the church and for the world," Blaire said.
The bishop plans to celebrate a Mass at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton to pray for the new pope at a later date.
Other Catholic leaders and parishioners reacted with similar approval.
"When Benedict XVI resigned, I was shocked," said Leslie Shaw Klinger, a Modesto resident who attends St. Joseph's Catholic Church. "When the conclave chose Cardinal Jorge, I thought, 'Just right!' He is a Franciscan, a man of God; he defies political agendas in that he is neither right nor left.
"His choice of the name Francis is perfect. St. Francis of Assisi was asked by Jesus himself to rebuild his church. The Holy Father has a lot of work to do, and we, the body of Christ, are going to have to be willing to help."
The Rev. Ramon Bejarano, pastor of St. Stanislaus in Modesto, said he frankly had been hoping for a younger pope.
But, he said, "I love the fact that now we have a pope from this side of the world. He comes from a hard-working immigrant Italian family, so I know he understands the struggles of working families, immigrants, etc. When the new pope came to the window, I was saying to myself, 'Come on, smile, you look too serious.' Then, when he spoke, I experienced the simplicity and humility of his persona.
"I was hoping he would say a word or two in Spanish, but I guess that will be at another time. We are blessed to have Pope Francis, named after St. Francis. I believe he will guide the church according to the heart of Jesus."
Deacon José Alfredo Reyes, also from St. Stanislaus, said the Holy Spirit again led the cardinals to elect the right pope to lead the church.
"First pope from Latin America, first Jesuit, first one to take the name Francis, all these firsts are very exciting, as it shows that God has sent his Holy Spirit 'to renew the face of the earth,' " he said.
Reyes, originally from El Salvador, added, "What it means to me as a Latino, and I suppose to many La-tino parishioners, is that this election reflects the face of the church. After all, almost half of the Catholics in the world are from Latin America. Even here in the United States, Latino Catholics represent a significant number; in our parish, Latinos represent more than 50 percent."
The Rev. Mark Wagner, pastor of St. Joseph's in Modesto, said he was disappointed that Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola named by The Washington Post this week as a likely papal successor wasn't chosen.
"He was one of my professors during my theology studies in Rome," Wagner said. "But I'm excited that we have a pope from the Americas."
He approved of the pope's "simple name" and called him an intellectual and an innovator. "Pope Francis' first words were certainly very thoughtful, congenial and collaborative," Wagner said. "In deference to the fact that his first responsibility will be overseeing the church of Rome, he spoke in Italian.
"As an intellectual, he deftly expressed his double task of guiding both the church in Rome and all of the churches: 'Let us begin this journey together ... this journey of the church of Rome, which is to preside over all the churches in charity. It is a journey of fraternity, of love and of trust between us.' "
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2012.