Diocesan parishioners respond to selection of Pope Francis

Hispanic community already feeling impact with the election of first Holy Father from the Americas

WITNESSING HISTORY Deacon Bill Jacobs is photographed by his wife, Toni, while at the Vatican to witness the selection of Pope Francis. Pope Francis is seen on the large video screen. The Jacobs are parishioners at Holy Family in Seymour. Photo by Toni Jacobs

WITNESSING HISTORY Deacon Bill Jacobs is photographed by his wife, Toni, while at the Vatican to witness the selection of Pope Francis. Pope Francis is seen on the large video screen. The Jacobs are parishioners at Holy Family in Seymour. Photo by Toni Jacobs

The impact of Pope Francis’ election is being felt around the world, and in the Diocese of Knoxville parishioners are reacting with excitement to the new pontiff and his interaction with the faithful.

Deacon Bill Jacobs, who serves at Holy Family Church in Seymour, described being in St. Peter’s Square when white smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel chimney as one of the most exciting experiences of his life.

Deacon Jacobs and his wife, Toni, made Rome travel plans when His Holiness Benedict XVI announced his Feb. 28 resignation. They arrived on March 11, the first day of the conclave to elect Benedict’s successor.

“I’ve never really had a bucket list, but if I had one, this would be high on the list. I always dreamed about going to the Vatican during a conclave,” said Deacon Jacobs, who admitted getting caught up in the moment.

Although they were in the ancient capital of Europe, the Jacobs were never very far from the Diocese of Knoxville. While at St. Peter’s, they met Cardinal Justin Rigali, who is in the College of Cardinals and was a papal elector in the conclave, and also Knoxville seminarian Michael Hendershott, who is studying at the Pontifical North American College affiliated with the Vatican.

Deacon Jacobs and his wife were waving American and University of Tennessee flags as they joined tens of thousands of people crowded into St. Peter’s square for the papal succession. They stood in the rain and cold, praying the rosary when the historical moment occurred.

“Then the white smoke appeared. It was so exciting, with thousands of faithful watching and cheering. Then the rain stopped just before Pope Francis appeared,” Deacon Jacobs said. “I was crying. It was a very emotional time for me and Toni.”

The Jacobs weren’t alone in their response to Pope Francis’ election.

Blanca Primm, who is with the Diocese of Knoxville’s Office of Hispanic Ministry and is originally from Peru, said she was speechless when she realized the new pope is Argentinean and the first pontiff from the Americas.

Mrs. Primm and Lourdes Garza, director of the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry, say Pope Francis has generated much excitement and hope in East Tennessee’s Latino community as followers listen to the Holy Father in their native language. Mrs. Primm said she watched on television with great anticipation as the white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel chimney.

“At that moment I was so emotional. We have a pope. I was thrilled and I was crying. At the moment they said he was an Argentinean, I was speechless. I completely identify with my Latin American brothers and sisters that God loves us,” Mrs. Primm said. “I felt it was a sign of the times, that the Holy Spirit was speaking very loudly to us.”

“Overjoyed” by the selection of Pope Francis, Ms. Garza said it is important that he is the first pontiff from the Americas, specifically Latin America, because he will be able to converse fluently with 40 percent of the Catholic Church.

“The 23 Spanish-speaking countries are united by faith, language and music, so it’s very significant to have a pope who shares that with us,” Ms. Garza said. “We’re happy that the College of Cardinals is looking at the universal Church and acknowledging where growth in the Church is.”

As an archbishop in Buenos Aires and an advocate for the poor, she believes Pope Francis not only talks his faith, but walks it, and his humility and compassion will spread throughout the Church.

“My mother said he seems more approachable, like you can go up and talk to him,” Ms. Garza said. “It will penetrate through the Church—that he is the pope for everybody.”

Mrs. Primm shares the view that Pope Francis is spreading a positive light throughout the universal Church, which could lead to a renewed interest in Catholicism from those who have grown distant from the Church.

“It’s going to bring a renewal in the Church. People will be more open,” she said. “Each of us in our own roles must help the pope by being the best Catholic we can be and to be holy. Take on his example.”

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