JACKSON, Miss. —
The leaders of Mississippi's two Catholic dioceses have offered prayers and support to Pope Francis I.
Bishop Joseph Latino of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson said in a statement that the new pope's burdens will be great.
"This will be an enormous challenge ... in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to Christianity and religion in general ... He will have to be a staunch and unyielding defender of the respect for the dignity of the human person in a world where individuals are very often treated as commodities," he said.
However, Latino said he has faith that Pope Francis I will be a beacon of hope for the 1.2 billion Catholics across the globe.
"A new era in our church has begun," he said. "We as a church will be refreshed as we continue our 2,000-year mission of bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ into the whole world."
Francis, the first Jesuit pope and first non-European since the Middle Ages, decided to call himself Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, the humble friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor. The new pope is known for his work with the poor in Buenos Aires' slums.
Bishop Roger Morin of the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi called Wednesday's selection of Bergoglio as pope a "great day for the Universal Church."
"On this great day for the Universal Church, I, along with the priests, deacons, religious and laity of the Diocese of Biloxi, rejoice in the election of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, S.J. to the Chair of St. Peter.
"We congratulate Pope Francis I and offer our prayers, support, fidelity, and love, as he begins his ministry as the Successor to the Chair of St. Peter and the universal pastor of the Catholic Church," Morin said in a statement.
In Jackson, Father Mike O'Brien, pastor at St. Richard Catholic Church said: "We have a lot of Hispanic people in Mississippi, and they will be very encouraged by a pope who speaks their language."
"The first Pope from the new world, the first to take a Jesuit name, I think he's going to be a fresh start," said Michelle Harkins, administrative assistant at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo. "And that's exactly what our church needs."
Father Lincoln Dall of St. James agreed, having studied in the pope's native Argentina.
"Being the first non-European pope, I think choosing him opens the church to the rest of the world and reflects its diversity," Dall said. "Argentina is also one of the largest arch-dioceses of the Americas, so he's used to tending a big flock."
Sister Mary Christine Fellerhoff, pastoral assistant at St. Helen's Catholic Church in Amory, said Francis I has done more than talk the talk.
"He's very much lived the poor simple life, living sparsely, using public transportation. I'm looking forward to seeing that in his papacy and in the work of the church," she said.