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UPDATE: Southern California Catholics welcome news of first Latin American pope (photos)

Atendees at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels pray during noon mass on March 13th, 2013 after the new Pope Francis I was announced at the Vatican.
Atendees at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels pray during noon mass on March 13th, 2013 after the new Pope Francis I was announced at the Vatican.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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The Los Angeles Archdiocese's 4.2 million Catholics greeted news Wednesday of a new pope, Argentine cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

At the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, worshipers gathered for the daily noon mass. They knew a pope had been selected, but didn't know his identity until it was announced during the service by Archbishop José Gomez, who spoke in both English and Spanish about the significance of the the first-ever pope from Latin America.

"That really shows the importance of all of us in this continent as part of the universal church," Gomez said. "It is indeed a time of joy and thanksgiving because God has given us the grace to have a new holy father." 

Giancarlo Tallarico, 36, was at the Cathedral with his father, Don, 65. The son said they were happy to be there on this momentous day for Catholics.

"We always come here to lunch mass, but we just [had] great timing today," Giancarlo said. "It kind of worked out nice."

"I think it will be a wonderful transition, especially with the Latin American countries," said the elder Tallarico. "We needed that position in the world because it’s sad that we were never given that."

Another attendee, Luis Dimen, acknowledged the challenges the new pope faces as the Catholic Church continues to cope with sex abuse scandals in the U.S. 

"The stigma that the church is facing now, he will have to deal with that," Dimen said. "But the common saying [is], 'Let the first one without sin cast the first stone.' I’m sure God understands."

Overall, there was a great deal of optimism and excitement at the Cathedral.

"I’m overjoyed to think that we have our first pope from the Americas — what a blessing," said 53-year-old Ruben Garcia. "And Francis — what a great name. I’m on cloud nine and this is one of the first masses we’re having for our new pope. Isn’t this a wonderful day?"

Jesuits react to selection of one of their own

California Gov. Jerry Brown has something in common with the new pope. “Well, I’m glad he’s a Jesuit," Brown said.

Brown was a Jesuit seminarian for four years in the late 1950s. The governor says Pope Francis might bring a broader, “Southern Hemisphere” perspective to the Vatican. 

“But what the hell do I know? I thought Jesuits were not allowed to consider higher office — at least, they weren’t in my day.”

Father Greg Boyle, the Jesuit who founded Homeboy Industries in L.A., was stunned by the selection of one of his own order to be pope.

RELATED: Pope: Homeboy's Father Greg Boyle says church should lower defenses, move closer to Jesus

Reached by phone at an airport in Washington, D.C., Boyle was recording an interview with KPCC and watching TV as Francis the First made his first appearance at the Vatican.

"Look at that! Isn’t that something?! He’s a Jesuit, can you believe this? And then to pick Francis, it’s pretty … you know they used to pick past popes, so to pick someone who is the opposite of pope in terms of simplicity and poverty, you know."

Boyle says the election of Francis, an Argentinean, will be well received in his mostly Spanish-speaking parish in Los Angeles.

"I think that they’re going to connect with the fact that he’s Latino, and the first South American pope, and he’s somebody who evokes John Paul I … smiling, warm."

When asked about the story that he gave up a chauffeured limo in Buenos Aires and rode the bus, Boyle replied, "God, I didn't know that," adding, "This is a good moment."

Few people expected Pope Benedict XVI's successor to be part of the Catholic Jesuit order, but doubters got a jolt when the white smoke rose from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Father Richard Rolfs, a Jesuit priest at Loyola Marymount University, said Pope Francis reminds him of the late Jesuit leader, Father Pedro Arrupe.
“He has a particular love for the poor and that of course was very big with our [Father General Arrupe], who was very aware of the poor in the society and the poor in the world, and the idea that we are to serve the poor," Rolfs said.

Father Bill Muller is the Jesuit president of South L.A.’s Verbum Dei High School. He says he’s thrilled that he has a fellow Jesuit brother in Pope Francis – but that’s not all.

“I was more thrilled that he’s from Latin America," Muller said. "That he’s got a lot of pastoral experience. He’s an administrator. He knows how to run a diocese. And I just think the developing world, you know, south of the equator, that’s where the Church is going to be the strongest in the next number of years, so to have a spokesperson from that part of the world running the Church I think is terrific.”

Father Muller also says he hopes Pope Francis brings his well-known simplicity and “sense of being with the people” with him to the Vatican.

LA Jewish community reacts to new pope

Pope Francis hosted a "Kristallnacht" commemoration last year in his cathedral, according to Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Kristallnacht marks the night in 1938 when the Nazis attacked Jews in Germany.

Hier said Francis represents a significant change in the Catholic Church as it tries to move away from the clergy abuse scandal that has consumed it.

"This seems to be a pope that is very open, very honest," Hier said. He's a very humble person and he has very good relations with non-Catholics. Which is very important in the 21st century."

Hier said he's pleased with the choice of Pope Francis.

"We have every reason to be very confident that not only is this a very good choice for Latin America and for the [1.2 billion] Catholics in the world, but it's a good choice — a very good choice — as far as the Jewish community is concerned."

Hier thinks Pope Francis's dedication to the Jewish community will only intensify now that he heads the Roman Catholic Church. Hier said he's somewhat surprised by the choice; he'd expected the church to play it safe and select someone with ties to Italy.

Across the U.S., 70 percent of Latinos are Catholic, for a total of 29 million, according to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Beyond L.A., there are 1.2 million Catholics in the Orange County diocese, 1.2 million in the San Bernardino diocese and almost 1 million in the San Diego diocese.