A buzz came over St. Mary's Catholic Parish in West Chicago last week, as smiling members drifted in, stopping to watch staff hang up yellow bunting to celebrate the new pope announced on March 13.
"I praised him that his will was done in such a wonderful, holy man. It's a wonderful day for people of all faiths and brings us so much hope," the West Chicago resident said. "This was definitely the work of God. I think the new pope being from South America is God telling us that he wants us to focus on getting back to the basics and taking care of the poor."
Father John Balluff expects his church's parishioners will be thrilled with the decision. There are about 1,700 families in West Chicago who attend the church, and about 70 percent of them are of Latin-American descent, he said.
"He knows the lives of the poor, and he knows Christ," he said. "The poor have a very traditional connection to Christ, and this Bishop of Rome understands that from experience."
The new pope's selection of the name Francis will also strengthen the community's connection to him, he said. "Franciscans evangelized much of Mexico, and many here are Mexican, so they'll have a connection to that name."
Parish Secretary Maria Gomez, who is from Mexico, said she was very proud to see a Latin-American selected.
"My first impression of him was very good. He seems to be humble, and he seems like a simple human being and that's what we need," she said. "I think he's one of us. As Latin-Americans, this is something to be proud of."
In Wheaton, the announcement came just as students were letting out for the day at St. Francis High School. After news that the new pope was choosing the name Francis, a joke floated through the school to send him a high school T-shirt and invite him to Wheaton.
"Even though we're not Jesuits, I think that the kids will really kind of identify with him calling himself that name. It's almost like hanging with us and being one of us," said Diane Mercadante, director of pastoral ministry at the school. "It's sort of a nod at what St. Francis is about as a high school and as a community and what we're trying to do. I'm sure the students are excited about it."
The new pope's selection of the name Francis a symbol of how in touch he is with people, she said, pointing out that, "Francis very much followed the gospel of Jesus to be with the poor and be with the people."
There's a lot of pride in being from St. Francis and the namesake will strengthen that, she said.
She hopes having a Jesuit will also be another way to connect to the youth and bring focus to education.
"I think that sort of says something about the youth of the church, too, because education is typically for young people, so he's going to be interested in that and hopefully in reach out in that way," she said. "I think the youth want to be a part of something big. They want a faith that works and if he can make the connection in that way, I think it'll be great."
The excitement was not contained to Catholics. Chris Castaldo, director of Wheaton College's Ministry of Gospel Renewal, said having a pope from Argentina will be helpful in his mission to help Protestants and Catholics understand each other. Castaldo is a Protestant who grew up in a Catholic church and works to help the two bridge their differences.
"I would expect that the Archbishop understands evangelicals better than a European and certainly in Italy, since there's such a small evangelical presence there," he said. "Having a pope who understands Evangelical Protestants will hopefully translate into an ability to engage a conversation that is informed, nuanced and capable of understanding one another."