The 266th pope's native language and continent — as well as his affinity for the less fortunate — have struck a chord in the hearts of Spanish-speaking Catholics on the North Coast, forging an instant bond between them and their spiritual leader.
"It's very important," said Cristina Becerra of Santa Rosa, a parishioner at St. Rose Church, speaking in Spanish.
"Because of the language, he is going to speak to us," said Becerra, a native of Mexico. She said she cried when she heard last week that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina had been elected to the papacy.
"It made me so happy," she said, putting her hand on her chest. "I put it on Facebook: 'We have a Latin American pope.'"
Bergoglio, who as pontiff took the name Francis when he was elected Wednesday, after St. Francis of Assisi, is the first Latin American to lead the church. As such, he carries a deep symbolism for worshipers from Latin America, St. Rose Pastor Mario Valencia said Saturday.
"It's like the president, Obama, he represents the first African-American president," Valencia said. "Wow, that is like the maturity of democracy. A Latin American pope represents the maturity of spirituality; everyone is equal before God."
Antonio Tamayo of San Jose put it another way.
"We made history," he said, as he and his family arrived for the 7 p.m. Mass at Windsor's Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.
For churchgoers of Mexican origin, who are the bulk of Latino Catholics on the North Coast, that Argentina is some 4,000 miles from their native country mattered little.
"We probably think about the same because there's not a lot of difference between the cultures of Mexico and Argentina," said Edgar Camacho, a Guanajuato native at St. Rose Church on Saturday.