HARKER HEIGHTS — The announcement that the cardinals elected Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as the new pope has Catholics worldwide, including many in Central Texas, excited about the choice.

Bergoglio is the first Jesuit elected as pope, and the first to take on the name Francis. The position was left vacant last month after Pope Benedict XVI stepped down for health reasons.

About a handful of people made their way to the chapel at Seton Medical Center in Harker Heights just minutes after the newly elected pope stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“It’s a very moving experience to actually hear those words ‘Habemus Papam,’ ‘we have a pope,” said Steve Vogel of Georgetown. “It seems to me that he chose a very appropriate name since Francis of Assisi was known for redoing the church in his day.”

Parishioners of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Killeen watched TV screens as the new pope spoke to a crowd gathered at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

“He can strengthen the church,” Blanca Gonzalez of Killeen said. “It’s a lot of work, and in a way we feel sorry for him because it’s too much, but that’s why we pray.”

“We were very excited,” Becky Stinehour of Killeen said. “We saw the white smoke and waited in anticipation. ... We had no idea, but we’re very pleased he is from Latin America.”

Nancy Meshell, a parishioner at St. Paul Chong Hasang Catholic Church in Harker Heights, said she was ecstatic with the selection of the new pope.

“When the pope gave the blessing, I just had chills up my spine,” she said. “What a wonderful opportunity for the healing of our church.”

She said it’s important that there is leadership in place for the Catholic Church, especially during the Lenten season.

Others said they did not expect to see a South American take the helm of the church.

“I was surprised, actually,” said the Rev. Richard O’Rourke, priest of St. Paul Chong Hasang. “I expected Cardinal (Angelo) Scola — the Italian — but when Bergoglio came out, I was delighted because I knew him.”

O’Rourke was joined by a group of his parishioners who surrounded the television set and watched in silence and prayed.

“I think he has got a humility,” O’Rourke said. “But one of the greatest things I haven’t seen from a pope before was when he asked everyone to pray over him.”

O’Rourke said it seemed strange when he had to add the new pope’s name to the prayer during his Wednesday afternoon Mass.

Holy Family Catholic Church in Copperas Cove shared much the same reaction. The Rev. Chris Downey, the church’s pastor, said he thought the new pope would be Italian or even Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada.

“From what I can see, it seems like an excellent (choice),” he said. “I look forward to hearing what he is going to say and how he is going to lead the church.”

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