“For us, it is like the world has changed,” said the Rev. Jose Hoyos of St. Anthony’s in Falls Church. “When Obama was elected president, you could see the African American community was so proud to have someone at the top of the political system. People are saying, ‘We have a pope who looks like me, who sounds like me and understands my culture.’ ”
And not just Catholics. Even non-church-going Latinos in the region, most of whom come from Central America, have embraced the ascension of a South American prelate to what some consider the highest religious job on the planet as a victory for “one of us.”
“They were really going crazy this morning,” said Pedro Biaggi, host of a daily radio call-in show on El Zol (107.9 FM), a Spanish-language station. His usual chatter shifted from pop culture to pope culture after the white smoke appeared over Rome. “Catholics, non-Catholics, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Puerto Ricans — people are just overwhelmingly excited that he’s one of ours.”
After the much-touted role of Latino voters in putting Obama in the White House for a second term, and the subsequent progress on immigration reform, having a native Spanish-speaker in the Vatican makes this feel like a Hispanic moment, Biaggi said.
“We elected a president, and now we have a pope,” he said. “Hispanics are feeling like our power and importance are becoming more relevant. Maybe people will start to look at us differently now.”
After the initial euphoria, local Hispanic Catholics are absorbing the emerging biography of Jorge Bergoglio, a man few had heard of before his appearance on the Vatican balcony Wednesday.
After Thursday’s Spanish-
language Mass at Alexandria’s Good Shepherd Catholic Church, parishioners said they have been enthralled with the stories of Pope Francis’s austere habits and his devotion to the poor. They identify with the story of his origin, a humble childhood in Buenos Aires and immigrant parents.
“Most of us are from that same background,” said Mario Coca, 34, a Volvo mechanic in Alexandria. “The reason we came to the U.S. is that we had nothing. He came from nowhere. He understands us.”
Geimy Montoya, 30, nodded. “He shows his poor heart.”
Biaggi said some of his younger radio-show callers were wary of then-Archbishop Bergoglio’s fierce opposition to same-sex marriage when Argentina legalized it in 2010. But among the faithful at Good Shepherd, the new pope’s social conservatism was neither surprising nor objectionable.
“Argentina, Brazil, the United States — they have become too liberal,” said Eugenio Acevedo, a Mexican-born carpenter, adding that the church should stand strong against abortion and same-sex marriage. “I think God picked this man because he had his eye on the Americas right now.”