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Area Catholics embrace new Pope; welcome style and South American visit
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Worshippers attend Mass on Thursday evening at St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville, stopping to pray in the lobby. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Pope Francis is definitely making waves, not only in the Vatican or even just the Catholic Church, but all over the world.

The new pontiff has received media coverage for his newer approach to religion and doctrine, saying in one statement, for example, that he will not judge gay priests.

The Mass he led Sunday in Brazil drew more than 3 million people.

His visit honored World Youth Day, making a significant impression on those who attended and many others worldwide who viewed it via television news.

This is one occasion of several that have shown the new pope’s personal style. He was seen riding in the middle of the streets in a sedan, as opposed to the conventional papal transportation held above large crowds.

“Just being able to come back as a local pope, a South American, Latin pope, is a tremendous statement to the people in South America and Brazil but also across the world,” said Father Eric Hill, pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Flowery Branch.

“It’s this guy who just wants to be with his people. I think since the very day that he was elected, he’s deemed himself. He went back to pay his own bill at the hotel. I mean, he’s not riding in the papal limousine. He’s living with the people of the Vatican that live and work there.”

Hill said Pope Francis’s take on more modern, controversial issues is not a contradiction of church doctrine but instead a fresh new take on it.

“I think he’s showing a different way of looking at things,” he said. “There are things that are never going to change.”

He said that he believes the pope’s latest statement only meant that he sees homosexual priests just as priests, and it is in line with Christian beliefs.

“I don’t know that it’s any different than what we should be as Christians,” Hill said. “We shouldn’t be judging people for who they are but for how they live their life, and I think that’s very different than what some people are reading into this as a stamp that homosexuality is fine.”

The local Catholic community has reacted with excitement over the pope’s relevance to the Latin American people. Parishioners of St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville were optimistic and supportive of the new pope, they said.

“As a Latino, I believe he represents the church well,” Maria Mendoza said at Mass on Friday, through a translator.

Norma Jean Gomez, an usher and member of St. Michael, said people feel the pope is relevant to them personally and believes in helping the poor.

“There is a sense of happiness in the Hispanic community to have a pope who is Latino,” Gomez said, through a translator. “I imagine that he sees everyone as equal.”

Staff member Emma Witman contributed to this story.

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